Saturday, January 31, 2015

Death by Chocolate

Too much desert? -
Occasionally I will see a restaurant menu list a "Death by Chocolate" dessert.  Sampling one in the past I survived but was awake most of the night from the stimulant effects of theobromine.  Fortunately, I am not a bear.

When you attract bears, whether for a radio collar in Missouri or hunting them in states with large bear populations, a favored bait is out of date pastries.  Yes, Yogi Bear in Jellystone Park did love jelly donuts.  However, the New Hampshire Game and Fish Department has found that "death by chocolate" is a real possibility for bears.

Hunters in that state created a 90-pound mountain of chocolate and chocolate donuts as bait to draw them in.  Four bears were found dead at the site and a necropsy performed on the two adult females and two cubs showed they died of heart failure.  They had large amounts of theobromine, a chemical compound that stimulates humans but is known to be toxic to racoons and dogs as well.
“While theobromine poisoning has been studied and documented in wild and domestic dogs, cats, rodents and humans, per-pound toxicity levels for bears and other wildlife species remain unknown at this time."  New Hampshire Fish and Game.
Theobromine is found in cocoa and chocolate.  It is a xanthine alkaloid similar to theophylline (a medicine for asthma) and caffeine, my stimulant of choice.  They stimulate the heart and dilate blood vessels.  Dogs and other animals metabolize theobromine much slower than humans, therefore increasing the levels in their blood.

Missouri vs. New Hampshire size
While the idea of hunting bears over bait is repugnant to some of us as not very sporting, it is necessary in some states with disproportionate bear populations.  Bears are clever and omnivorous and lack natural predators except humans and their vehicles.  New Hampshire has an estimated 5,000 bears state wide, averaging 0.5 bears/square mile!  By comparison, Missouri has an estimated population of 300 with around 4,000 in our four contiguous states (with Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky).

Population management is one of the many important functions of the Missouri Department of Conservation.  As bears are a part of our local ecosystems, we need to learn to live together.  Just like Goldilocks, we need to strive for numbers that are "not too cold and not too hot."

Jeff Beringer, MDC resource scientist and bear biologist, sent me this story  which was originally published in

Follow our black bears at the

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