Photo of Telluride, CO, by Daniel Ribar on Unsplash

In the picturesque town of Telluride, Colorado, a recent wildlife incident has cast a somber light on an increasingly pressing environmental issue. A bear, suffering and in dire straits, was euthanized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials after residents reported its concerning condition. The cause of the bear’s suffering? An accumulation of plastic waste in its digestive system—a stark testament to the human footprint on nature.

Understanding the Incident

Residents in Telluride were confronted with a distressing sight: a bear in apparent distress, with foam around its mouth and notably swollen eyes, indicating a severe infection. The animals extreme fatigue, unable to travel far without needing to rest, was a clear indicator to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials of its dire condition. It was a deeply saddening situation, leading to the difficult but necessary decision to euthanize the bear to end its suffering.

On the afternoon of September 9th, CPW was alerted to a bear in poor health near the river trail in Telluride. Officers from CPW, with support from the Telluride Marshal’s Office, carefully monitored the bear, ensuring it remained a safe distance from individuals enjoying the river.

The bear exhibited symptoms similar to a severe illness: swollen, puffy eyes and a discharge from both its eyes and mouth. Based on the officers’ assessment and a video provided by a local resident, it seemed the bear was also suffering from intense abdominal pain, evident by its arched back and hesitant movements.

This bear was not unknown to the Telluride community; it had previously been driven away from populated areas by law enforcement. It was suspected to be the same bear that had entered a home earlier in the season, adding a layer of complexity to the bear’s history with the local residents and officials.

The Harrowing Discovery

The follow-up to the unfortunate necessity of euthanizing the bear unveiled a shocking truth. A conglomeration of plastic debris had lodged itself in the bear’s stomach, causing a blockage that led to prolonged agony. This distressing find underscores the far-reaching problem of plastic waste and its brutal effects on wildlife. The following day, CPW officers performed an exhaustive necropsy on site.

Mark Caddy, a CPW District Wildlife Manager, detailed the unsettling contents of the bear’s stomach. “An obstruction of assorted debris was found, including paper towels, disinfecting wipes, bits of plastic bags, and wrappers coated with wax—materials likely scavenged from trash,” he reported. “This obstruction, which was blocking the passage to the intestines, was also mixed with undigested food remnants like french fries and vegetables. The intestines themselves were devoid of any food matter and showed signs of bacterial growth, indicative of the onset of decay. We examined several sections of the intestines and found them to be completely empty of any digested material.” This stark revelation highlights the tragic consequences of littering and improper waste disposal on wildlife.

The Larger Implications

This tragic event is more than an isolated case; it’s a microcosm of a global crisis. Animals worldwide, particularly those with keen senses of smell like bears, are attracted to and consume plastics, which their bodies cannot process. This incident serves as a sobering reminder of the broader, global threat that discarded plastics pose to animals.

How You Can Make a Difference

What can be done to prevent such unnecessary loss of wildlife? Here are actionable steps:

  1. Reduce Plastic Usage: One of the most impactful actions you can take is to reduce your plastic consumption. Opt for reusable water bottles, prioritize items with biodegradable packaging, and invest in reusable containers for leftovers.
  2. Proper Waste Disposal: Especially in communities where wildlife is present, ensure that waste is disposed of properly and securely to prevent animals from accessing it.
  3. Spread Awareness: Share information about the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife. Education can lead to action, and action can lead to change.
  4. Support Conservation Efforts: Donate to or volunteer with organizations that work towards wildlife conservation and habitat protection.

Telluride Bear and Plastic

The loss of the Telluride bear is a poignant reminder of our responsibility to the environment. As stewards of the planet, it is incumbent upon us to take immediate and persistent action to mitigate the harm we cause. By making conscious choices about our consumption and waste, we can help ensure that wildlife thrives in their natural habitats, free from the threats posed by our waste.

Let the story of the Telluride bear be a call to action. As we forge ahead, let us carry the commitment to make changes that honor the memory of this bear and the countless other wildlife affected by our actions.