Authorities found Andrew Thornton, a cocaine runner, dead in a Tennessee garden in September 1985. He was carrying a bag of cocaine, a parachute that didn’t open, and the key to a small plane that was found at a crash site some 60 miles away.
The remainder of Mr. Thornton’s inventory, which they believed he had discarded along his flight path, was the subject of months of investigation. But a black bear discovered it first in the Georgian mountains. Before we could get to it, the bear tore open the duffel bag, took some cocaine, and overdosed, an official said to The Associated Press in December 1985.
The bizarre but genuine story that served as the basis for the new film “Cocaine Bear” was the product of an extraordinary series of circumstances, according to wildlife experts from all over the nation. Specialists have seen wild animals drink almost everything else, including fancy chocolate cakes from houses, hummingbird feeder syrup, and even other alcoholic beverages like beer and marijuana.
Also, a skunk was reported to be racing about in the parking lot behind a hotel with a McFlurry cup on its head, according to a call Jeff Hull received as an environmental conservation officer with the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York. But, animals’ appetite for human products, both legal and illegal, can cause problems for both them and us.
AN OVERZEALOUS CONSUMER
When winter is approaching and they need to put on weight, bears are known for stealing human food. Black bear and fur-bearer biologist Dave Wattles of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife commented that bears are continuously looking for simple, calorie-dense items.
The highly-sophisticated sense of smell in bears has taught them that humans are a dependable source of these nutrients. The result is that they tip over waste bins and plunge into dumpsters. In addition to ransacking backyard chicken pens and outdoor grill grease traps, they also plunder bird feeders, beehives, and pet and animal feed.
Even breaking into homes occasionally. One bear burglar was a recurring target of frozen food in the Berkshire Mountains.
According to Andrew Madden, the western district supervisor of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, “that bear entered many residences and went by available food, going straight to the freezer and devouring ice cream. The consistency of the flavor may have been due to supply.
Bears occasionally run into other substances when searching for high-calorie food. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Joseph Livingston, a citizen in Cotopaxi, Colorado, reported in October 2020 that a bear had broken into an outdoor freezer and stolen edible marijuana. The animal also brought French fries, possibly planning ahead.
INTOXICATION WITH ANIMALS
Recreational drugs can make wild animals ill, regardless of their other effects. A confused raccoon that had been discovered in a nearby yard was taken in by the Gibsons Wildlife Rescue Center in Gibsons, British Columbia, in January 2018. Through laboratory analysis, it was determined that the animal had recently consumed both marijuana and benzodiazepines, a class of depressants frequently treated for anxiety.
The facility kept the animal warm and calm, and after a few hours, he began to awaken. Irene Davy, a co-founder of the facility, recalled that all of a sudden he was alive, expressing a desire to be set free which they did.
Mrs. Davy is unsure of how the raccoon acquired those items, but she suggested that it may have consumed edibles, swallowed the end of a joint, or discovered the benzodiazepines in the trash.
Moreover, drugs have the potential to enter the water supply. Researchers found various illegal substances, including cocaine, MDMA, and ketamine, in a Hungarian lake after a music festival had been hosted nearby, according to a 2021 study. 2019 saw the discovery of cocaine residues in freshwater shrimp gathered from British rivers.
Although the effects on wildlife are uncertain, studies indicate that fish and crustaceans’ health and behavior may be impacted by drug-contaminated water. According to one study, eels exposed to water containing small amounts of cocaine appeared hyperactive and displayed symptoms of muscular injury.
Intoxicants do not usually originate from people. Cedar waxwings that have consumed fermented berries and become drunk are often treated by Think Wild Central Oregon, which operates a wildlife helpline and hospital.
The organization’s development and communications coordinator, Molly Honea, observed that they appeared to be rather unstable. They ended up hitting windows as a result of their confusion and lack of coordination.
The hospital attends to the birds’ wounds as well as their intoxication. “We do put them in the oxygen tank and get them rehydrated,” Ms. Honea added.
Other creatures that supposedly become “drunk” after ingesting fermented fruit include bears, elk, and, most notably, elephants. Although large animals would have to consume large quantities of fruit to get drunk.
When consumed in high numbers, even common human food can be dangerous for wildlife. Some are even poisonous.
Animals that consume rubbish frequently also consume other types of garbage. A critically ill bear that Colorado authorities discovered in a dumpster had to be put to sleep; a necropsy revealed that its stomach was “filled with plastic and cigarette butts and just really horrible stuff.
According to Beth Axelrod, president of the Virginia-based nonprofit organization Wildlife Rescue League, sometimes wild creatures attempting to consume a piece of human food become caught in the trash. The organization’s wildlife rescuer Billy Rios once released a raccoon whose head got stuck in a peanut butter bottle, and more recently, he saved another raccoon that needed surgery after getting a Pepsi can stuck on one of its legs.
Also, animals that grow to realize that humans are a source of food could become bold and venture inside homes rather than just backyards. “If those behaviors get worse, it regrettably can put the bear, really by no fault of its own, in a scenario where it has become a menace and it has to be removed,” Dr. Wattles said. (He emphasized that animals wandering in urban areas run the risk of being struck by autos.)
As the biology of animals is unlikely to change, it is up to humans to lower the hazards. Experts advised that people dispose of garbage correctly and store rubbish, pet food, birdseed, and other animal attractants in safe interior locations. They advised against purposefully feeding animals, and presumably against dropping cocaine from planes.
Wildlife’s appetite for human products, legal or illegal, can cause problems for both animals and humans. Recreational drugs can make wild animals ill, while even common human food can be dangerous or poisonous for wildlife when consumed in high numbers.
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