Mali’s Story: A New Path Forward

Creative thinking, compassion, and collaboration. That’s what wildlife managers and First Nations representatives brought to the table when they found themselves facing a grizzly challenge last week. And their courage to embrace an innovative approach saved a bear. 

Killing so-called “problem bears” is not the only solution. There are other paths. Coexistence is attainable, and Mali’s case is proof. 

Last week, a male grizzly swam from mainland British Columbia to tiny Hanson Island in the Broughton Archipelago. The bear, quickly named Malilakala for a local ancestor (“Mali” for short) had recently emerged from hibernation, and was seeking nourishment. In a statement from the Grizzly Bear Foundation, experts believe that “the grizzly’s incredible sense of smell, up to 100 times stronger than a human,” must have led him across this expanse of sea in search of food after hibernation. “This time of year, bears go in search of sedge grass, mussels, and clams to fill their bellies.”

Mali, however, discovered an island that was not accustomed to grizzly neighbors, and quickly found a great deal of improperly-secured trash. Food-habituated bears can become embroiled in conflicts, and typically, wildlife managers are quick to euthanize such bold bears. 

According to CTV Vancouver Island:

Crews who are often forced to kill problem bears because of safety issues, were soon planning their trip to the secluded island. But this time conservation officers weren’t the only ones mobilizing.

“We don’t want these bears put down anymore,” says Hereditary Chief of the Kwikwasutinuxw Nation, Mike Willie. 

A collection of nearby First Nations, who had recently had a roundtable discussion with the province about grizzly conservation, were planning their next move. 

“Mali is going to be the blueprint,” Willie says. “A blueprint to the process moving forward collaboratively with the government.”

What came next is what coastal First Nations defenders are describing as a watershed moment. 

Indigenous leaders and the Grizzly Bear Foundation petitioned the province to save Mali and relocate him back to the mainland.

Victoria News continued: 

The success of the operation to save Mali was not just a logistical effort but for many of the First Nations people, it was also a “highly emotional one,” said Chief Richard Sumner of the Mamalilikulla Nation. “The killing of grizzly bears in our traditional territory is not an option,” which is why the whole operation of safely relocating the bear was “very satisfying” for them.

“Grizzly bears are important to our culture and the economics of the bear-viewing industry. We’re looking to build collaborative decision making with the BC Government on grizzly bear conservation in our territory,” said Mike Willie of Sea Wolf Adventures and a Hereditary Chief of the Kwikwasutinuxw Nation.

On April 9th, 2020, Mali was tranquilized and transported by helicopter to an undisclosed wilderness location on mainland British Columbia. 

In this inspiring incident, it’s clear that the indigenous and non-native communities as well as the wildlife managers all value grizzlies. They’re an important part of the regional culture, religion, and economy. When all voices are welcomed in the discussion, innovative solutions emerge. 

There’s no doubt that the thoughtful collaboration among agencies, non-profit organizations, and indigenous representatives saved Mali. But there’s reason to believe that this success has laid the groundwork to protect many more bears and humans alike.  

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