A video that shows a Kodiak bear being being hand-fed ice cream through a drive-thru window has prompted an investigation by safety and animal welfare officials in Alberta.
The video shows a one-year-old bear, named Berkley, leaning out the driver’s side window of a truck at a Dairy Queen in Innisfail, Alta., a community some 115 kilometres north of Calgary. A person is briefly visible in the truck behind the bear.
It was posted to Twitter and Facebook on Jan. 14 by the nearby Discovery Wildlife Park but has since been taken down.
“We’ve got Berkley in the drive-thru testing out some ice cream so she can pick out her birthday cake,” a man identified as Mark says in the video.
“We’ve added some peanuts to this batch and she seems to like it — so I think we’ve got a winner here.”
Another video posted by the park two days later showed Berkley licking the frosting off an ice cream cake. In it, head zoo keeper Serena Bos says the bear also enjoys peanuts and eats Kraft Dinner about once a month.
Officials are looking into the first video and the zoo’s permit, which is regulated by Alberta Environment and Parks.
“Public safety is a top priority for our government,” said spokesman Brendan Cox. “The content of the video in question is disturbing and both Environment and Parks, and the Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch are actively investigating this incident.
Bear experts are calling the video irresponsible and disrespectful.
“It’s a challenge every day out there in our parks and protected areas to try to teach people who are visiting these places or live here in Alberta that we don’t feed wildlife, that we don’t feed bears,” said Kim Titchener, who runs a wildlife safety training business called Bear Safety & More.
“We need to conserve and protect them, and respect them.”
Titchener said she’s complained to the province, and to the animal protection group Zoocheck, about the zoo before.
“I’ve seen images on their Facebook page of children next to the bears, people getting selfies, kiss pictures, people getting the bear to kiss their face,” she said.
But Bos said there was no safety concern because Berkley was on a chain while in the truck.
“There was never any public present. It was done long before the Dairy Queen even opened,” she told The Canadian Press. “Berkley is a captive bear, so not a wild bear in any way.”
She also defended feeding her ice cream cake.
Berkley’s Birthday cake is ready ! Follow Dairy Queen Innisfail Alberta Facebook page to watch Berkley’s Birthday LIVE 🐻💜 pic.twitter.com/i5C9Cr1NG7
The cake “is nutritionally not going to harm Berkley in any way,” she said.
“If we would have given her a Black Forest cake, that would have definitely not been ideal to give her.”
Zoo owner Doug Bos said the drive-thru video was supposed to be about safety.
“The message was: Don’t feed the bears. Don’t stop on the side of the road. If everybody would listen to the video that’s what the message was, don’t do this,” he said.
He noted they may have to reconsider their approach.
Mark Kemball, owner of the Dairy Queen, said he wasn’t concerned about his safety as he fed the bear.
“This bear is as tame as any animal I have ever seen,” he said. “She is as gentle as can be. She has never been in the wild.”
‘Very extreme concerns’
But Zoocheck executive director Rob Laidlaw says the bear’s training does not make such situations any safer.
“You can have a trained animal, whether it’s a bear or a tiger or any number of other creatures, that does something 500 times in a row or 900 times in a row, but that 901st time, there might be a problem,” he said.
Zoocheck has had “historically… a number of concerns” with Discovery Wildlife Park, he said.
“Some of them safety related, some of them with regard to enclosures and the actual housing conditions of the animals.”
Zoocheck found more than 50 violations of the Alberta zoo standards in a 2015 review of the Discovery Wildlife Park.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) also said in 2005 that the park was unsafe for both animals and visitors.