Berkeley the Bear is unfazed by the controversy. (Photo from Discovery Wildlife Park’s Facebook page).

Innisfail zoo owner says he’s glad to be held to high standards

Doug Bos is prepared to pay for his mistake

Doug Bos admits he forgot to notify the province before taking a bear off his Discovery Wildlife Park property in Innisfail.

“It’s a good thing they charged us,” added Bos, who’s “glad Fish and Wildlife is doing its job” by holding Alberta zoo operators to high standards.

An investigation into an attention-grabbing conservation video that showed Berkeley the bear being taken for ice cream through the Dairy Queen drive-thru resulted in two charges against Bos and his wife Debbie Rowland.

They will appear in Red Deer provincial court May 28 to answer charges under the Wildlife Act for failing to notify the province in advance before removing a bear from the wildlife park.

“We didn’t email them. We forgot to do that,” said Bos. “But this shows the public that the zoo industry is heavily regulated — that even if you make a little mistake, you can get penalized for it.”

He and Rowland have run the Innisfail zoo for over 28 years. He said the only other time they forgot to notify provincial officials is when they had to bring Berkeley the bear cub to their home overnight to bottle feed him — which resulted in the second of the Fish and Wildlife charges.

“We will pay our fines and have already changed protocols to make sure notifications are done every time,” said Bos.

Although some bear experts have called the Facebook video — which shows the one-year-old Kodiak bear being hand-fed ice cream by the owner of the Diary Queen — irresponsible, he said most public reaction has been positive.

Bos was inspired to present a ‘don’t feed the bears’ message in an memorable way after taking some marketing courses. The idea was to get the point across by going to a silly extreme.

He believes there’s irony in the critical response to the video, since some of the critics have probably enjoyed watching commercials and movies featuring bears. Discovery Wildlife Park bears have appeared in various films, including Anchorman, with Will Ferrell, and Doctor Dolittle 2.

Bos uses positive-reinforcement training, saying “You can’t get a 1,400-lb animal to do anything it doesn’t want to do.”

Park bears have been taught some things for their own good — such as standing on a weigh scale, urinating into a bottle, and allowing somebody to take a sample of their blood when needed. This way, they don’t have to be tranquilized during standard health procedures. Bos said they have also been able to contribute to valuable scientific studies.

He said he intends to think more about public perceptions before tackling future video projects.

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