Residents in Alaska’s largest city are distressed by the increasing human/bear encounters in Anchorage parks, along the coastal trail and area streams. In the lead up to salmon spawning in local waterways, an Anchorage biologist is working on a brown bear relocation program. Dr. Robert Bastic has developed a plan that will safely take bears away from the heavy population of Anchorage while also providing a unique tourism experience. The method? Hot air balloons.
Townsend – Hi, Bob.
BASTIC – Hi Lori. Thanks for having me.
TOWNSEND – How did you come up with this idea?
BASTIC – The idea hit me while watching these hot air balloons carrying passengers above the low mountains near Temecula California. It’s such a gentle ride, I realized you could dart a bear, strap it into a sling harness, lift off and relocate them far into the wilderness of the Chugach Mountains where they won’t bother humans and be at risk of being put down as a nuisance.
TOWNSEND – Where does the tourism element come in to this concept?
BASTIC – That’s actually one of the best parts! Tourists would pay to be part of the relocation effort, staying safely away from the bear until it’s sleeping soundly. Then, while the bear is being moved they would have tremendous photo opportunities from the air as they travel over the city and into the wilderness for the bear drop off. It would be built in to the budget to sustain the program.
TOWNSEND –What would your start up costs be and where will the money come from?
BASTIC – We’re hoping to get some funding from the legislature. Anchorage based lawmakers are desperate to find a solution to this bear encounter problem in the city. And then we’re developing a kick starter campaign. We’ll need about 300,000 to get a large enough balloon, the harness and other equipment.
TOWNSEND – Dr. Bastic, It sounds a bit farfetched. Have you ever heard of a similar effort for animal relocation?
BASTIC – Well, few people realize that this was the original plan for Maggie the elephant, when she was going to relocate to the elephant sanctuary in California. But the lift required was considered too much for most hot air balloons, so the expense got out of hand and the military stepped in and offered a plane to take her instead.
TOWNSEND – So, really, there’s been nothing like this?
BOB BASTIC – Well, no, but Alaska is a pioneering and innovative place! It’s really quite perfect. Hot Air balloons can only operate in cool conditions, if the air gets too warm they don’t work properly so when the bears wake up, we’ll be ready to dart them, harness them in the sling and take them a few hours away into the wilderness and return in ideal, cool air temperature conditions for maximum balloon lift. And most of the cost will be offset by enthusiastic tourists and their kids wanting pictures with a cute, sleeping bear. Really – what could go wrong?
TOWNSEND – Yes, really, what could. Thank you Dr. Bastic, we’ll watch the skies over Anchorage later this spring.
BASTIC – Thank you Lori. We hope the inaugural trip will happen sometime in May.
TOWNSEND – Dr. Robert Bob Bastic is leading the effort to relocate brown bears out of Anchorage by hot air balloon. There’s not more information at our website because it’s April Fool’s day people.