Final report blames access to neighborhood trash as cause of death for Kodiak bear

A Kodiak bear was fatally shot by wildlife officials last fall after eating too much trash. State wildlife biologists responded to a call last October of a bear acting oddly near the homes on Selief Lane – just a couple miles outside of downtown Kodiak. Nate Svoboda is the state’s area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“Even when we approached her she was barely moving,” he said. “She was slumped over and would barely raise her head, clearly there was something very, very wrong with her.”

Bears typically reach their peak weight in fall before they head into their dens, but this one appeared to be starving. She was also lactating, but didn’t have any cubs around her. Fish and Game had to shoot the bear because of her poor condition. When they opened the bear’s stomach, they found something unusual at the base of her pyloric sphincter, which is the opening at the base of the intestines.

“When we dissected it further we found this ball, for lack of a better word, of thick plastic and cardboard and cellophane wrappers and aluminum and it was about two to two and half inches in diameter,” said Svoboda.

They shipped samples to the state veterinarian in Fairbanks, and more samples were sent to researchers at Colorado State University. 

A report from the university came back this month; the trash had created a blockage in the bear’s intestines, which led to a lot of suffering right up until Fish & Game biologists put her down. 

“It is upsetting and incredibly frustrating,” said Svoboda. “Especially with the efforts that we put in trying to educate people on proper waste management. We spend an exorbitant amount of time doing that.”

Bears getting into garbage isn’t a new issue in Kodiak, and it’s a crime to leave out attractants. But Svoboda says this is the first time he knows of that a Kodiak bear was killed from eating household trash. 

Svoboda said garbage left out by people has been an ongoing problem in some neighborhoods, including Selief Lane. Bird feeders and outdoor grills can also attract bears, but that’s not the only problem.

“We have some bears that are starting to learn how to open dumpsters.” said Svoboda. “We’ve seen this, actually video footage of bears navigating the quote on quote bear resistant locks.” 

Alaska Waste, the local trash company, has made modifications to its residential dumpsters in Kodiak in light of that development. Svoboda kept the items pulled from the bear’s stomach and plans to use them as educational material for the community.  He says the incident is a timely reminder for residents to properly dispose of their garbage – especially as bears will start to wake up from hibernation in just a few months. There’s no word on whether the bear’s young survived.

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