Canadian Zoo That Took Bear to Dairy Queen Faces Charges

The Kodiak bear Bethyl at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, on January 19, 2009. Berkley is still young but could one day be as big as Bethyl. Graham Denholm/Getty Images

A Canadian zoo is in hot water after taking one of its Kodiak bears for ice cream at a local Dairy Queen, CBC has reported.

The Discovery Wildlife Park, located about 70 miles from Calgary, posted a video in January showing Berkley the bear enjoying a trip to a local Dairy Queen drive-thru. The video shows the 1-year-old ursine sitting in the passenger seat of a truck and leaning out of the window to be hand-fed ice cream by the branch's owner.

In the video, a man explained that Berkley was testing out different ice creams so she could choose which one she wanted on her birthday cake. It is not clear which flavor Berkley eventually chose, but the staff member in the video said she particularly enjoyed one with peanuts in it. Wild Kodiak bears have life spans of up to 30 years, and in captivity can live even longer, so Berkley has plenty of ice cream ahead of her.

Though Berkley seemed to enjoy her treat and even managed to nab some cake, the video was quickly taken down after internet users criticized the zoo's staff for unprofessional behavior.

Zoo employees said there was never any danger to the public, as Berkley visited the store before it opened for the day. The bear also had been secured with a metal chain in case she lost her cool. Nonetheless, the zoo now faces two charges from wildlife officials because its staff failed to properly notify authorities.

The first charge is related to the January Dairy Queen trip, while the second dates back to 2017, when staff failed to inform authorities that Berkley, then a newly arrived cub, was taken home every night so she could be bottle-fed.

Zoo owner Doug Bos said he would plead guilty to the charges, the first ever faced by the zoo in its 28 years of operation. "We made a mistake; I'm embarrassed about it," he told The Guardian.

Bos stressed that it was the failure of staff to notify the authorities of Berkley's movements that was the problem, not the ice cream treats. Bos also said there was a big difference between wild Kodiak bears and those kept in zoos.

"These bears aren't just your average bear that we go snag out of the wild and do this," he said. Such videos are considered relatively vanilla for the zoo, Bos explained. "We've done lots of TV commercials, Super Bowl commercials with bears and food… Some of them bears were in a grocery store and wandered up and down the aisles."

The owner said the charges showed how robust the oversight was on Canadian zoos. "There are so many people out there that think it's not, they think anybody can just do anything they want," he said.

Bos defended the video after it was uploaded in January, telling reporters it was supposed to be a lesson about the dangers of feeding bears. "The message was: Don't feed the bears. Don't stop on the side of the road. If everybody would listen to the video, that's what the message was—don't do this," Bos said.

Provincial officials have reviewed the zoo's permit in light of the bear's picnic. Staff will now be required to provide more information when requesting permission to transport animals, and will have to keep them in a cage, crate or kennel when on the move.