Chocolate – rich and delicious. Everybody loves chocolate, and hopefully people are aware that it’s toxic to pets, especially dogs. But what you may not know is that chocolate is also toxic to wild animals and is an emerging issue for bears.
Bears can come into contact with chocolate through the practice of baiting. Baiting is a common hunting tool and legal in many states. Baits are attractants usually made of something sweet like sugar, donut holes, or the waste from a local bakery. With this practice, however, bears may consume large quantities of toxic compounds found specifically in chocolate.
In 2015, four dead bears were reported in New Hampshire. Forensic examination found the bears had consumed lethal doses of theobromine, which is found in chocolate. Baiting bears with chocolate has since become an issue for state wildlife authorities.
Theobromine, and to some degree caffeine, is a toxic compound found in chocolate and the reason why it’s poisonous to some animals. When consumed in sufficient quantities, these substances can cause vomiting, seizures, neurological effects, cardiac problems, and in rare cases death. The darker the chocolate the higher level of toxicity, making it more dangerous to dogs, bears and other susceptible animals alike.
Although bears are the species targeted by baiting, it is suspected that wolves and coyotes have a similar reaction to chocolate as domestic dogs. Science has shown that theobromine is harmful to birds too, but little is known about its effects on other wildlife.
New Hampshire has already moved to ban chocolate of any form in bear baits. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission is also addressing the problem, having issued a warning for this season with a possible ban in 2017. The issue has led other states to more clearly define legal baits as natural, unprocessed foods.
Biologists with the Missouri Black Bear Project are using all natural baits to capture and study the state’s black bear population, finding that pecans and corn are an effective and healthy alternative. Fortunately, there are plenty of other readily available baits for hunters to use.
Limiting chocolate baits is a win-win, keeping bears healthy and conserving their numbers. SCI Foundation recognizes the science behind chocolate poisoning and discourages hunters from using chocolate. SCI Foundation also realizes that a total ban is problematic for hunters and supports limiting the quantity of chocolate in bear baits.
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