Animals In Print
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From 12 November 2002 Issue
Wildlife officer's 'execution' of cub shocks hunters
SALT LAKE CITY -- Believing they were baby-sitting an abandoned black bear cub, five elk hunters were relieved to see a wildlife official arrive at their hunting camp.
That is, until he stepped from the truck, asked, "Where is the little
bear?" and pulled out his handgun, shooting the cub out of the tree.
The cub fell to the ground, squalling with a stomach wound. Despite pleas to put the cub out of its misery with another shot, state wildlife enforcement officer Garrett Whatcott watched the cub die five or six minutes later, according to witnesses.
"It was surreal. It was a nightmare frame from a movie," said Tamara Woodbury.
Woodbury, who is executive director of the Girl Scouts-Arizona
Cactus-Pine Council, had been throwing fish into the tree to feed the bear prior to Whatcott's arrival, The Salt Lake Tribune reported in a copyright story Saturday.
The hunters set up camp Oct. 9 in the Lost Springs part of Ashley
National Forest on the South Slope of the Uintas. The small bear cub wandered into camp the next day. The bear seemed desperate for food, the hunters said.
The hunters kept an eye out for a mother bear and secured their food and trash. That afternoon, while they were gone, the bear cub got into some trash but not the food. The next morning, when the hunters returned, the bear was in camp licking a Crisco can and dirty dishes.
The cub scampered up a tree.
Concerned it was starving, two of the hunters drove to Manila, about 114 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, and contacted U.S. Forest Service officials.
Told about possible cub rehabilitation programs, the hunters asked if they could capture the bear with nets and a dog kennel, but were told they must wait for a Utah division of wildlife officer, who would arrive by noon.
At 4 p.m., Wendy Hill, a research administrator at the Huntsman
Cancer Institute, drove back to Manila to inquire about the delay and was told to call Whatcott, who told them repeatedly to move their camp if they had a problem with the cub.
The group explained they did not fear for themselves, only for the
cub. Whatcott showed up just after 5 p.m. and shot the bear.
Woodbury said the cub had just sprouted teeth and weighed around 20 pounds. She held its head while it died.
The three women asked for the bear's carcass so they could bury it. Whatcott refused, Woodbury said, and instead threw the carcass into the back of his truck, "where his dog got after it."
The five hunters have since complained about Whatcott to Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and Utah Division of Wildlife Director Kevin Conway.
Conway said Whatcott was acting on his regional supervisor's order, which was in line with division policy.
Regional wildlife manager Boyde Blackwell told Whatcott to put the drought-starved cub down because Utah wildlife officials have already sent three cubs to a problem-bear rehab center in Boise, Conway said.
A first-year officer, Whatcott will receive sensitivity counseling,
Conway said. Comments made by Forest Service personnel on the scene regarding other animal-shooting incidents involving Whatcott would also be investigated, Conway said.
"He (Whatcott) went in and I don't think handled it with the
sensitivity the circumstances merited," Conway said. "My concern is not with the decision to take the bear. I can live with that, but it was how it was done."
Whatcott did not return a call seeking comment.
Wildlife officers have killed 70 "problem" black bears this year so
far, mostly for killing sheep and cattle in the central part of the state. The state has an estimated 3,500 bears.
Originally published Sunday, October 20, 2002
Stephany J. Seay
National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
1300 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
source: sseay@NPCA.ORG (Stephany Seay)
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