Decisions related to animals based on careful deliberations

Kai Vepsäläinen Publiceringsdatum 8.9.2022 15.06 Blogg

The decisions made by the Police on large predators are always based on valid legislation, cooperation, careful deliberation and updated instructions, Chief Superintendent Kai Vepsäläinen of the National Police Board writes in the underlying blog.

For a year now, a bear has been roaming the forest in Eastern Finland, with the pawn caught in a trap designed for catching small predators. When a problem has been caused by man, it is also man’s responsibility to proceed so that the animal will not suffer any further. This is also the requirement imposed by the Animal Welfare Act.

The Eastern Finland Police Department decided to try to catch the bear, and attempts were made twice last year. However, the animal was not caught. At that time, it was assumed that it might be possible to remove the trap without resorting to surgery, which would have made it possible to help the bear at that point. Now a decision has been made to put the bear down, a decision that has not been taken lightly. {0><}0{>During my career, I have not had or seen a case where an animal-related decision would have been backed with so much background information as has been done here.  

The information provided by the Finnish Food Authority points out that it would be challenging to detach a trap that the bear has been carrying in its pawn for such a long time. A heavy trap will go deep into the pawn and will be surrounded by scar tissue formation so that the non-surgical freeing of the paw will be difficult. 

According to the opinion issued by the expert veterinarian of the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), the final outcome of an operation under anaesthesia would be that it would not be possible to detach the trap fixed in the bear’s tissues in a way to leave the animal fit to live further. Even if the operation were to succeed, the animal would need a long-term intravenous course of antibiotics which is virtually impossible to administer. This operation would only cause more pain and suffering to the animal, which is not justified, either from animal protection or the individual animal’s perspective. 

The well-meant idea of giving anaesthetics to the animal and removing the trap would only cause additional suffering to the animal. But this is not the only point of view as concerns the anaesthetics.
The Police follows international practices in corresponding cases. In recent years, there have been cases where a bear under narcosis has suddenly woken up and caused a danger to the life of those operating on it. In situations directed by the Police we are responsible for the safety of the persons involved. In these operations the risk of endangering human life to keep an animal alive for potentially only for a short while is too big. It has been suggested that the operation of helping the bear could be performed by volunteers but this is not possible, either. The Police large predator instructions are based on the principle that the Police only asks for help from the National Resources Institute, not from other parties.

During the year, the Police has also been offered foreign expert help. Throughout the entire “Foothold Trap Bear” operation in Eno, the Police of Eastern Finland has heard several Finnish veterinarians, the Natural Resources Centre and the experts from the Finnish Wildlife Agency. The expert opinions share the unanimous view that the animal must be put down if it is probable that the trap cannot be removed without surgery. From the Police perspective, the national actors have sufficient competence and professional skills to estimate the animal’s condition and the ways  in which it should and could be helped, and therefore there is no need to resort to foreign experts in managing this task.

Every year, hundreds of bear hunting permits are issued in Finland. In 2021, 388 bears were shot while 111 permits of the total 197 permits issued in 2022 became subject to bans to proceeds. Thus, healthy and viable animals are also legally hunted for reasons of population management. The decisions on the animals to be hunted are made on the basis of careful considerations, and one perspective is the health of the prey. The Foothold Trap Bear in Eastern Finland is a typical example of an animal that would become part of the annual hunting quota due to its condition. According to the Natural Resources Centre, the Finnish bear population is strongly enough to resist the shooting of individual, hurt individuals.

As to the prevention of these cases in the future, the Police has expressed their opinion on the use of small predator traps in hunting. According to the Police opinion, the amendment of Section 10 of the Hunting Decree will probably decrease the number of such situations significantly in the future. The amendment of the Decree is being prepared and will probably enter into force on 1 January 2023. The amendment will prescribe certain requirements imposed on the protective box attached to traps. For example, the opening of the box will have a prescribed size to prevent the pawn of the bear from entering to touch the bait and thus be caught in the trap. Here, we must add that the structural solutions of the traps do not prevent the problems caused by careless or negligent use of the small predator traps.

When the police makes decisions regarding animals, they are based on careful weighing of the different aspects involved. The primary task of the Police is to secure human life, but every year, we also save the lives of several animals. When a Police officer takes an official decision, they take it as a member of the organisation, in light of the current instructions and based on their personal expertise. Any criticism targeted at the person or attempts to pressure or even threaten the officer are thus not an effective way to criticize the decision taken but the case can, if necessary, be subjected to an official complaint procedure.

It is characteristic of any authorities that they need to be capable of making decisions. Even if natural diversity and animal health and safety are in the very core values of the Finnish society, the Police included, sometimes the scales are tipped by such weighty aspects that cannot be ignored in decision-making. Based on cooperation between various authorities and thorough considerations, a decision to put down the bear has now been made which is the most responsible thing both from the nature and human perspective.

Kai Vepsäläinen
Chief Superintendent
National Police Board

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