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Video: Is TV show unfair to bears?

By
TODAY contributor
updated 1/6/2009 9:04:08 AM ET 2009-01-06T14:04:08

Grizzly bears tear down a tent in the Alaskan wilderness. Another bear sinks its huge fangs into a mannequin dressed like a camper and drags it away. Black bears rip up an empty van.

The scenes are from Discovery’s new cable-TV series “Bear Feeding Frenzy.” And as NBC News’ Peter Alexander reported for TODAY on Tuesday, they have sent many wildlife experts and some viewers as well into a frenzy of their own.

“The idea of a bear attack can be terrifying, and this show may not exactly ease those fears,” Alexander said. “It was meant to show bears in their natural environment, but experts say it misses the mark and instead reinforces the stereotype that most bears are looking to attack people.”

“It would be the very rare bear that would actually approach a person that closely,” Rick Sinnott of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told NBC News.

Un-bearable?
The show is presented as a warning about worst-case scenarios in the wild, Alexander reported. But the scenarios it presents actually take place in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Area, a fenced-in refuge where the resident bears have lived their entire lives.

In a statement, Discovery said, “The location of where the program was filmed is highlighted during the end credits. After receiving viewer inquiries, we inserted ‘Filmed on location at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center’ at front of the show as well to ensure clarity. We made this addition in mid-December, and will be included in any future airings over the coming months.”

Although hikers and campers have been attacked by both black bears and grizzlies, such encounters are extremely rare, wildlife experts say, and usually occur when a bear feels it or its cubs are threatened. What’s more, the experts say, they do not simply latch onto sleeping campers and drag them off to gnaw on them, as bears on the program are shown doing to mannequins.

TODAY
Some animal experts say that a bear would not drag people off as this bear does to this mannequin on “Bear Freeding Frenzy.”
“A person watching this video would think that a wild bear would walk right up to them while they were sleeping and grab them by the foot and drag them off into the brush. That is not the case at all,” Sinnott said.

Wildlife biologists told NBC News that the bears in the show are just playing with the mannequins and not treating them as they would actual humans.

‘Hey, bear!’
“Bear Feeding Frenzy” is narrated by former soap star Chris Douglas, who provides his commentary from the safety of a thick-walled Plexiglas box — the outdoor equivalent of an underwater shark cage. The commentary is more of the “Oh, jeez!” variety than scientific observation.

In one clip shown on TODAY, a grizzly paws at Douglas’ box. As it pokes its snout in one of the breathing holes, the actor says, “Let's see what this one does. Hey, bear! Hey, bear!"

In a story about the controversial show in The Anchorage Daily News, outdoors enthusiasts and wildlife experts complain that the show is teaching wild bears to attack campsites and humanoid mannequins.

But Discovery points out that all the bears have been raised in captivity and are not released into the wild.

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