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WSU investigates deaths of four grizzlies

Josh Babcock Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Washington State University released a report Tuesday critical of several aspects of the facilities and management at its Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center on Terre View Drive – including the deaths of four grizzlies.

Concerns surrounding the well-being of WSU’s grizzly population prompted the university to start the investigation last fall.

Kim Kidwell, executive associate dean for the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resources, said the report found some issues with how the bears were housed and the facility’s euthanization practices.

The most eye-opening information from the report was the euthanization of two grizzly yearlings in 2015 after they had been placed in hibernation together without an adult. They had been placed in what is known as a “culvert trap” and moved to Veterinary Isolation Barn Building #199G.

But the bears did not go into hibernation, and by the time they were removed “their health had deteriorated so severely that both bears had to be euthanized,” the report states. “The experience revealed that bears need to learn how to hibernate.”

Marta Coursey, director of communications for CAHNRS, said the report is dated incorrectly, and the deaths of the cubs actually happened five years ago in 2010.

According to the report, “Center associates acknowledge they have revised their best management practice for culvert trap hibernation by only using bears who have previously hibernated in culvert traps.”

The two cubs were left in cages that lacked surveillance, which is typical for the center’s hibernation areas. The report said such areas are expected to have video monitoring and that the traps must have surveillance installed before the traps are used for the next hibernation cycle.

Kidwell said another two adult bears were also euthanized in January 2016, but their deaths were part of a scheduled research project to examine tissue samples.

“Probably the biggest issue that can be raised with the Center’s standard operating procedures is that the center has permission to euthanize bears under certain circumstances,” the report said. “Euthanasia should be, and is, used on ill bears who have no hope for recovery.”

On top of that, Kidwell said one of the main concerns with the WSU bear center’s euthanasia practices is its use for population control.

Kidwell said the facility can only house 13 adult bears and acquires the animals either from zoos, wildlife refuges or on-site births.

She said in the event a 14th bear is born or brought to the facility, one of the bears already there would have to be euthanized.

According to the report, a 14th bear would either be habituated to humans (the on-site births), or a management challenge, as bears from zoos and refuges are older and more difficult to get to participate in research.

Because of these two stipulations, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife prohibits the center from trying to place a bear in another facility, only offering one alternative – euthanasia.

Therefore, if one space is open, and there are excess cubs in a litter, “the only solution to this problem is to euthanize some animals,” the report states.

The report also states that “the committee has found instances of associates administering drugs that were not approved on the applicable standard operating procedures .”

Still, it noted, it was an associate who became aware of the sampling problem and alerted WSU’s Office of the Campus Veterinarian with no apparent response.

“The facility is adequate, but not ideal,” Kidwell said.

But not only does the report state the university need a larger, updated bear facility, there is a need for stronger communication between the campus veterinarian and the Center.

Noting 20 years of difficult relations between the OCV and the Center, the report stated documentation and reporting under federal guidelines for the animals haven’t been being completed, at least in part because the Center lacks a manager.

In some cases, the report said documentation for the bears was missing or not completely filled out.

The committee report said nine new practices must be put in place.

Some include:

- Adding an employee to OCV staff who is educated on zoo animal health

- Banning procedures on bears without OCV permission

- Creating a way for Center personnel to submit an urgent care request to the OCV

- Performing a once-a-year lab analysis on all bears at the facility

Facility recommendations included:

- Eliminating 90 degree turns in some halls in the facility that require simultaneous lifting and turning of gurneys

- Installing a sprinkler system and automatic lighting for evacuation purposes

- Building a primary quarantine room

- Standardizing the size of all bear dens

The committee may consider transforming some storage rooms into dark bear hibernation dens too.

“We could always do better,” Kidwell said.

“All animal research facilities at WSU have been accredited, and are subject to continuing review … . The reader should thus not equate ‘inadequate’ with a failure to meet minimal professional standards for care and treatment of bears,” the report stated.

AP-WF-03-09-16 1425GMT

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