Death By Chocolate: 4 Wild Bears Dead From Toxic Overdose, 90 Lbs Of Bait

Wildlife agents in northern New Hampshire were momentarily at a loss about the shocking deaths of four black bears. However, officials soon learned that the cause was not the result of disease, predation, or foul play. Instead, the bear deaths were found to be related to the overdose of a toxin found in chocolate, according to a Concord Monitor report.

Four wild bear carcasses were found in an undisclosed location back in September. Toxicology reports and a necropsy (similar to a human autopsy) showed that the bears died from heart failure, brought on by a naturally-occurring toxin called theobromine.

Wednesday, Andrew Timmins, the state Fish and Game Department’s bear project leader, contacted the NH Fish and Game Commission. The deaths by chocolate prompted Timmins to consider creating new policies to manage how bears are baited in the wild for legal culling.

“We are a landmark example. The case in New Hampshire perhaps represents one of the most significant cases for two reasons.”

First, animal authorities say that it’s very uncommon to find multiple animals dead in one location. Second, the manner of death at a baiting station is very rare. The substance behind the bear fatalities is known to be toxic to other animal species: cats, dogs, various rodents, and even humans. Until now, deadly levels were not known, and still aren’t. However, the incident is enough to increase research that hopefully devises a formula in determining fatal levels of theobromine. It’s important to point out that raw chocolate used for baking (Dutch chocolate) is high in the substance, while milk and white chocolate both have milder forms.

Back in 2011, chocolate was discovered to be the culprit in the death of a black bear cub in Michigan. Officials in other areas began to find other dead animals, and in each case, theobromine was linked. Fish and Game officials know of the baiting practice, and have asked hunters to be responsible.

However, in absence of legislation, the incidents keep rising. As a consequence, wildlife enforcement are bracing for potentially more bear fatalities. Some hunters and trappers believe chocolate-baiting is a more humane way of dispatching animals because it allows for a controlled hunt.

In all cases, even the four bear deaths by chocolate appear to be accidental because no one knows how much is too much. Still, game authorities believe now is the time for lawmakers to institute stricter regulation.

[Image via: Wikimedia Commons]