They used to call them parking lot hunts.
That’s when, says Robin Campbell, bears and other wildlife such as cougars, would be sold to game farms and then released in an enclosed area to be shot by what can only loosely be described as a hunter.
That fate, said Campbell, wasn’t going to befall little Knut.
The fuzzy little furball weighed only about five pounds when he came to the attention of Campbell, the founder of the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington.
“He was rescued from a game farm,” he said. “I have no idea what they were going to do with him. At that time they would gather them up and ship them across the border and they would be shot in a parking lot.”
That was 17 years ago, when the wildlife recovery facility was in its infancy.
“We talked to the ministry and they thought he would be a good candidate for people to learn about bears, because he was non-releasable,” Campbell said. “He would never have made it out in the wild.”
Little Knut is bigger now, about 700 pounds, and he has not only become Campbell’s friend, but also an ursine ambassador for the recovery facility.
“He likes people,” Campbell said. “I’ve always been his friend. We learned a lot over the years. He knows about 20 signs of mine and I know his signs. I knew he was going to be big, so I was always on his side. Because we got him so young, he thinks of me as family.”
Knut, Campbell stressed, doesn’t have to greet visitors to the wildlife facility. He has plenty of places to go — including not one, but three dens — where he can retreat if he doesn’t want to be around humans.
“He obviously likes people because he has that pen right up front that he chooses to go into,” Campbell said. “He could go into his den, like he does in the winter. In the summer he chooses to go there and he’s quite happy. He’s sort of an ambassador for Vancouver Island black bears and for bears all over.”
Knut isn’t enclosed with any other bears, but Campbell said he doesn’t appear to be lonely.
“They aren’t a social animal,” he said. “Once they are mature they only tolerate each other in the bush, but that’s about all. When they’re young and the mom kicks them out at two-years-old, they’ll gather together for the safety in numbers, but after that they tend to make their own way.”
Now, at 17, Knut is well past middle age, but Campbell fully expects him to be greeting visitors for quite a while yet.
“We hope he’ll go to at least age 25,” he said. “He’s very healthy and he has had a pretty good life.”