Tranqilizer kills Kenai bear slated to be painted with dots

Biologists say dart hit the young female in the liver

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A grizzly bear tranquilized so it could be painted with pink dots has died.

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Biologists said the tranquilizer dart hit the Kenai Peninsula bear in the liver.

The female yearling was darted June 13 as part of a program by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game plan to mark bears with dye if they had become habituated to humans.

Department officials hope that marking bears with bright colors will help identify them and head off problems between humans and bears looking for easy meals from backpacks or fish caught by anglers and kept along riverbanks.

Biologist Jeff Selinger, who heads up the program, said the bear death will not change the program focus. Anytime a bear is shot with a dart, there is a risk of death, he said. The bear's death was unfortunate, he said, but the program will move ahead.

Selinger and his team tranquilized the 2-year-old female last week after reports it was frequenting the Russian River area.

Five spots on the bear's hide were bleached and dyed in bright pink. The bear was tagged and fitted with a radio collar.

"The color codes will allow us to positively identify individual bears and to get reports from the public and other officials in the area of specific bear activity," Selinger said.

The bear was released, but when Selinger tracked it Monday with the radio collar, he found it had died. A necropsy indicated the tranquilizer dart hit the bear's liver.

"I was confident that I had the aim in the right spot on the rump, in the heavy meat section of the rump. The dart just traveled a little higher and got up behind the first rib," Selinger said.

Animal protection groups have said it's a bad idea to mark bears with bright colors. They said colored bears will socialize differently, a claim bear researchers said likely will not happen.

"Bears cannot see colors, or if they do it's just minor shades," Selinger said. "Most of what they see is in black and white, so color coding would not have an affect."

John Toppenberg of Alaska Wildlife Alliance said tourists visiting Alaska will be put off by the markings.

"Certainly, very few people would come up here to see bears colored like clowns," Toppenberg said.

Selinger said the bear coloring program was designed around four bears that frequented the Russian and Kenai River areas last year. If an opportunity comes up to mark them, Selinger said, his team is ready to do so.

There are no plans to mark a sow and two cubs spotted lately along the Russian River. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge closed off wooded areas near the ferry Tuesday because of those bears and others.

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