"Relocated bears seldom live happily ever after." - Linda Masterson in Living with Bears (pg 121)
Relocation (translocation) involves capturing an animal and releasing it in a safer or more suitable area, away from potential conflicts with humans. Capturing and moving a bear is sometimes necessary and may be the only non-lethal option in busy human-use areas. Various factors should be taken into account before relocating a bear, including the age and sex of the animal, the type and location of conflict behaviour, choice of release site and the desired outcome of the translocation.
Relocation is not the "silver bullet" to resolving human-bear conflicts. Although it seems to be favoured by bear control agencies and the general public, current research suggests that adult bears almost always return to their former ranges and generally do so within a month, regardless of the distance they are moved. (Landriault 1998)
However, the majority of juvenile male bears (under four years of age) easily disperse when translocated, as most haven't yet established a home range to return to. The recommended translocation distance to minimize the likelihood of return (known as homing) is between 60 and 100 kilometres. There is also some evidence of success with the translocation of juvenile females, but because their homing sense is well established, they must be moved a minimum of 130 kilometres (Landriault 1998).
More research is needed to determine the best methods to increase the efficacy of translocation. Homing bears travel a maximum of 18 kilometres daily. Moving bears across physiographic barriers such as mountain ranges or lakes may also reduce their homing ability (Rogers 1986). For both bear sexes and all age groups, translocation can allow enough time to remove attractants, so that if the bear returns, it will not have a reason to stay.
According to Landriault's 1998 study, translocation does not expose bears to increased mortality. She also found that two-lane highways were not barriers to homing, although four-lane highways are known to be difficult for bears to cross.
To summarize, the best criteria for a successful translocation of a black bear (and likely grizzlies too), is:
- Sub-adult male (2-4 yrs old)
- Translocation distance > 64km
- Existence of physical barriers between capture and release sites
- Use of soft release technique that allows for a period of acclimatization
Drawbacks related to translocation include the costs of fuel, equipment and manpower. Translocated bears can also experience considerable stress associated with locating new food sources, security, bedding and denning sites within the release area, potentially affecting their survival. Placing a bear in habitat used by other bears may lead to competition and social conflict, and result in the injury or death of the less dominant bear.
Relocation is a reactive, public appeasement strategy and does not address the root cause of human-bear conflicts. As such, another bear frequently takes the place of the one that has been removed. Often residents are either unwilling to change their own behaviour by removing attractants or are unaware of the need to do so because they believe that trapping and translocating a bear is a viable resolution.
Bear translocation should always be accompanied by public education through the control agency. Repeated intervention by trapping and relocation should be refused at households that fail to remove bear attractants.