11 min read

Zoo Takes Bear To Dairy Queen For Ice Cream — And People Are Furious

“The whole thing was misguided and ridiculous.”

Earlier this week, a Canadian zookeeper loaded one of the facility's Kodiak bears onto the passenger seat of his truck and drove her to a Dairy Queen drive-thru. When they pulled up to the pick-up window, a worker presented the bear with an ice cream cone, which he fed to her in tiny spoonfuls.

The 1-year-old bear, named Berkley, lives at Discovery Wildlife Park, a small zoo in Alberta, Canada, and she’d been driven to Dairy Queen so the zoo could record a short video — the video was promoted on the zoo’s Facebook page, but has since been deleted. The point of the video, according to zoo owner Doug Bos, was to educate the public about not interacting with wild bears.

Man feeing bear ice cream at drive-thru
A Dairy Queen worker feeding a Kodiak bear through the drive-thru window | Facebook/Discovery Wildlife Park

“Anyone who watched the whole video on our Facebook page, the message was not to feed bears in the wild,” Bos told The Dodo. “The whole thing ... was to get people’s attention. In my opinion, you need to be a little out-of-the-box to get people to get it.”

However, many people who saw the video believed the stunt was dangerous to both the bear and the public — and said it certainly didn’t convey its intended message.

“It seems like a crazy and counterproductive way of trying to get that message across,” Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck, a wildlife protection organization, told The Dodo. “The whole thing was misguided and ridiculous. To take a bear out in a vehicle to a local drive-thru to get ice cream — to me, that would tell me, ‘Hey, these are just cute, cuddly animals. They can be treated like pets, and we don’t need to be too concerned about them.’”

Man feeding wild bear ice cream at drive-thru
Facebook/Discovery Wildlife Center

According to Bos, the zoo acquired Berkley from another facility after her mother died. “It was a bear cub … that was bottle-raised, hand-raised,” Bos said.

Since Berkley is used to human contact, Bos believes that taking the bear to Dairy Queen was “absolutely not” dangerous. “This is not the first time we’ve done something like this, and it’s not a wild bear out of the wild,” said Bos, who explained that zoo staff have previously taken animals off-site for public appearances and to perform on movie sets and TV commercials.

However, Laidlaw disagrees, pointing out that Berkley is still a wild animal. “You get animals that have been handled from birth, sometimes for decades, and then something happens,” Laidlaw said. “You may have an animal that seems relatively docile and calm, and you move it into a novel situation, and there can be something that triggers it differently … like a backfiring car.”

Man feeding bear ice cream
Facebook/Discovery Wildlife Park

In 2005, famed animal handler Roy Horn nearly died when his 380-pound Bengal tiger attacked him during a performance in Las Vegas, despite the fact that the tiger had been hand-raised. “He had been handled probably about 10,000 times prior to the incident in which Roy Horn was attacked and permanently injured,” Laidlaw said.

Bos explained that Discovery Wildlife Park is the home to 10 orphaned bears, including Berkley, and they were all trained to do things, such as peeing in a cup for medical tests. But the fact that the bears are trained rings alarm bells — trainers often use cruel and abusive methods to get animals to do things that come unnaturally to them, especially ones used in live shows or on movie or TV sets.

Discovery Wildlife Park should have also considered the possibility of the bear escaping and the consequences for that, Laidlaw said. “It there was an escape, the bear would end up being traumatized, physically or psychologically, or even killed,” he said. “The situation was bad all the way around.”

Man feeding ice cream to bear in truck
Facebook/Discovery Wildlife Park

The law in Alberta, Canada, also has restrictions about when and how you can take wild animals into public, and the zoo didn’t follow the rules in this instance, Laidlaw explained.

“If you’re taking a dangerous animal off-site, you’re supposed to do so in a secure, safe manner, and in compliance with the Animal Protection Act,” Laidlaw said. “The reason they have that is that the government doesn’t want the animals to pose any disease or parasite risk, and they don’t want the animals to pose a public safety hazard, so they require advance notice when dangerous animals are going to be taken off the property, and they want to know for what purpose and under what conditions.”

Man feeding wild bear ice cream at drive-thru
Facebook/Discovery Wildife

The government has now charged the zoo for taking the bear to Dairy Queen without consent, and for not telling the authorities that the bear went to a private home for nightly feedings in 2017, according to a news source.

Bos told The Dodo that he’s “glad” they’d been charged. “I’m embarrassed that we forgot, and we put protocols in there so we hopefully don’t forget next time,” Bos said. “We implemented that double check system so it doesn’t happen again.”

But this isn’t the first time Discovery Wildlife Park has done something controversial. In 2005, the zoo allowed visitors to pay $20 to lean across an electrical fence and have a grizzly bear “kiss” them by licking their faces, which Laidlaw believes was an incredibly dangerous move.

Woman kissing bear
A visitor "kissing" a bear at the Discovery Wildlife Center | Zoocheck

While these incidents may seem outlandish, Laidlaw points out that it’s very common for zoos to offer visitors the opportunity to make physical contact with animals, and for zoos to take animals off-site for public appearances. In comparison, legitimate sanctuaries forbid contact between most animals and humans.

"This is one bizarre manifestation of that whole attitude that it’s OK to take animals out into public,” Laidlaw said. “But people should be aware that these kinds of things are happening all over North America, they’re happening in Europe, they’re happening in Japan. Animals are being taken out of warehouses or zoos or people’s homes, and being shunted around to all these locations, without very much regard to their welfare, and with very little regard to human health and safety.”

Man feeding wild bear ice cream through window
Facebook/Discovery Wildlife Center

The Alberta government’s prompt decision to file charges against the zoo was one positive outcome, Laidlaw explained. “The government took some action, and hopefully this will send a message to anyone who contemplates doing anything like this in the future,” he said.

To help improve the lives of zoo animals and other animals living in captivity, you can make a donation to Zoocheck.