This is the story of how a little bear named Hans became a symbol of survival and strength in a small B.C. community, and how her death has many calling for change and more oversight.
It began in September 2022.
Bears are a common sight in Nelson, B.C., a city nestled in the West Kootenay region.
However, the community has been grappling with a high number of bears being euthanized by the Conservation Officer Service (COS) due to attractants from people and garbage.
Katie Graves, the co-director and co-founder of The Ursa Project Society in Nelson, said they started the society in 2022 after 17 bears were killed within the city limits. They were all black bears and were becoming food-conditioned, Graves said. She said no one has ever been attacked by a bear in Nelson.
“And then one day on Sept. 9, 2022, a mother with two cubs, the mom and one of the cubs was shot by the CO and we said, this can’t keep happening.
“We looked to see who was doing anything about it, and there was no one doing anything about it. So we said, what if we did?”
It turns out the mom and cub that were shot was Hans’ mother and sibling. Despite being given the name Hans by residents, it was later determined Hans was a girl.
The family had been attracted to some garbage left in a carport and Graves said the officer came and shot the mom and one of the cubs.
Hans managed to escape up a tree.
“So for several nights, she was up in the top of that tree, wailing all through the night,” Graves said.
“And the neighbours reported hearing this, and the sound is absolutely heartbreaking. After that, the CO said, ‘Well, nature will take its course’. We said she needs to be rescued and relocated to Northern Lights Bear Sanctuary up in Smithers.”
Graves said Hans was only about nine months old at that time and small.
But she said the Conservation Service told them a relocation would not be possible because Nelson is considered a ‘no-go’ zone, which means cubs from the area cannot be rehabilitated because residents do not manage their attractants.
Residents were unsure if Hans would make it through the winter but she started to be seen around the city limits last spring and summer.
“She became quite the little celebrity,” Graves said. “She had a sort of mohawk and people would photograph and video him.”
Once it was established it was the same bear, residents realized Hans had survived two winters on her own, despite not denning.
“She was a very sweet, very timid bear,” Graves said.
The residents knew Hans seemed skinny but said she never seemed to pose a threat to anyone.
“People were rooting for her,” Graves said. “She was a survivor and (we were) hoping she would go den.”
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Hans the bear can be seen in the City of Nelson. Submitted to Global News
Just after Christmas, the Conservation Officer Service was called after someone said she was in their backyard.
Graves said officers showed up and tranquilized Hans but upon closer examination and a call to a biologist in Cranbrook, the decision was made to euthanize the bear.
“So the biologist said yes, (the CO) could go ahead and put her down and in doing so, that means asking the resident to carry her tranquilized body and in the back of the pick-up truck and be driven up into the bush where they dumped her mother and sibling and shoot her in the head.”
In a statement to Global News, the COS said it received multiple reports about Hans who was not in conflict or presenting a risk to public safety but who was in poor health.
“In consultation with wildlife biologists with the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, the bear was safely sedated and assessed,” the ministry said.
“Due to its poor body condition, including missing fur, the 2-year-old bear was put down as the humane option, with the direction and guidance of WLRS biologists.”
The ministry said it appreciates people are so passionate about bears and wildlife.
Graves said she does not have an issue with the conservation officer, but there needs to be more accountability and more oversight for the organization overall.
“She was such a survivor and I’m fully for euthanasia when an animal is suffering… it’s not that we’re against killing all animals against all reasons and all decisions but it needs to be done through the lens of a veterinarian.”
Graves said residents are outraged about what happened to Hans and it has affected many in the community.