Bear Trouble? There's a $2,000 Taser for That...

Taser International, the Arizona based stungun maker, today launched a novel version of its often controversial nonlethal weapon: but it's one geared for felling wild animals like grizzly bears, rather than police suspects or airport detainees.

The purpose of the device is to give park rangers, hunters and hikers the ability to disable bears, elk and moose that harry their camp sites - perhaps giving them time to get to the safety of a car or trail lodge. As the weapon has been made waterproof (and even saltwater proof) even fishermen in the wilds will have the chance to fell a bear, too.

Taser says that it designed the weapon - the Taser Wildlife Electronic Control Device (ECD) - in response to reports from wildlife managers who have often turned to regular tasers in extremis to cope with certain situations. The weapon is a variant of the firm's three-shot semi-automatic pistol but with its voltage waveform modified to knock out large creatures.

"It is designed to incapacitate larger animals more effectively and safer than current animal control tools," says Rick Smith, CEO. "It will help wildlife professionals protect wildlife by offering another tool to help resolve human-animal conflicts."

Taser cites a number of newspaper stories in which people had to use regular tasers to subdue animals. Some rehearse the animal rights arguments against such use. The targets animals varied from elk to moose, deer and grizzlies.

This would be laughable if it wasn't so obviously cruel. Taser has a point - a very small one - in that some bears' lives might be saved if fishermen and other adventurers in grizzly country replace the firearms they sometimes use to defend themselves from attack with Tasers.

But research about bears shows that they are rarely aggressive, and most dangerous encounters are the avoidable result of human stupidity or bears' desperation, rather than rogue animals inured to humans.

As for other animals - like bison - there's plenty of visual evidence that it's the people who are the instigators, not the animals.

My worry? That this weapon, despite its high (almost $2000) price tag, could encourage a new breed of ugly, empty-headed tourist behavior: will people approach animals they should keep away from knowing that if they have an animal-felling Taser they can get away with it?

Given the way regular Tasers have been misused - with their use sometimes a first resort and then being used to deliver repeated stun shocks to boot - it's hard to see how this hardware could encourage a better relationship between people and animals.

Image by PhotoBarmaley/ShutterStock

Bear Trouble? There's a $2,000 Taser for That... New Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.