NYT: Bear on Cocaine. Wild animals eat human waste, food and drugs

NYT: Bear on Cocaine. Wild animals eat human waste, food and drugs

NYT: Bear on cocaine. Wild animals eat human waste, food and drugs

Bear. Illustrative photo.

Washington – In September 1985, American authorities found the body of Andrew Thornton, a drug smuggler, in the backyard of a house in Tennessee. He had a bag full of cocaine, an unopened parachute and the key to a small plane that had crashed about 100 kilometers away. Investigators believed that the rest of the drug shipment had been thrown from the plane by Thornton earlier and had been searching for it for several months. However, before they did, a baribal bear found her in the mountains of northern Georgia, writes The New York Times.

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“The bear got to it before we did, ripped open the bag, took cocaine and overdosed,” one investigator told the AP in December 1985.

A strange but true story that inspired the new movie Bear on coke, is the result of an unusual combination of circumstances. Experts from all over the United States said they had never seen anything like it. But they noted that wild animals indulge in almost everything else: they steal fancy chocolate cakes from houses, suck syrup from hummingbird feeders and get hold of other intoxicants, including marijuana or beer.

Bears are famous for eating human provisions, especially when winter is approaching and they need to gain weight. “They're basically eating machines,” says biologist and expert on baribials and other mammals Dave Wattles. “They are constantly looking for easy, high-calorie food,” he says. Bears, who have an excellent sense of smell, have learned that humans are a reliable source of such food, so they overturn garbage cans and rummage through trash. They rob bird feeders and beehives, steal feed for farm animals and pets, loot chicken coops and lick the grease off the drip pans of outdoor grills.

Sometimes they even break into people's homes. In the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, one bear thief routinely sought out frozen treats.

“The bear went into several houses and ignored the available food – going straight to the freezer and eating ice cream,” said Massachusetts official Andrew Madden. “He almost always had vanilla, but maybe that was because of its availability,” he adds.

In search of high-calorie food, bears sometimes come across other substances. In October 2020, a Cotopaxi, Colorado, man reported that a bear had broken into his outdoor freezer and taken candy laced with marijuana, said Joseph Livingston of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Service. (The beast – most likely – thought it through and took away the fries too.)

Whatever wildlife experiences after taking recreational drugs, they can be pretty sick. The Gibsons Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in British Columbia, Canada, took in a dazed raccoon in January 2018. Laboratory tests showed the animal had recently ingested marijuana and benzodiazepine, a drug often prescribed for anxiety. The station kept the raccoon warm and calm, and when it woke up after a few hours, it released it.

Drugs can also get into water sources. In a 2021 study, researchers reported that quantities of illegal substances including cocaine, MDMA and ketamine were found in Hungary's Lake Balaton after a music festival. In 2019, scientists found traces of cocaine in the bodies of freshwater prawns fished from British rivers.

As wild animals are unlikely to change their habits, it is up to humans to reduce the potential risks. Experts recommend that people dispose of trash properly and store bird food, pet food, trash, and other potential attractants safely inside homes. According to them, people should not feed wildlife either – and they would certainly recommend that cocaine should not be dropped from airplanes either.