First Person

The man who gave the order to knock down the Brookline bear

Major Wilton F. Gray III, the Massachusetts Environmental Police’s inland bureau chief, explains why a dart used to immobilize was the best option for the bear spotted in Brookline in June.

“Most of our animal contact is more a people problem than an animal problem,” says Major Wilton Gray III.
Photograph by Aram Boghosian
“Most of our animal contact is more a people problem than an animal problem,” says Major Wilton Gray III.

There was no option that would have ended well for the bear. It was at that time we made the determination to immobilize him. He happened to be contained in a tree, in a walled yard of a residence in Brookline, a spot conducive to immobilization.

Our animal response teams have a protocol to follow. No. 1 is crowd control. No. 2 is we try to get the animal to move. No. 3 is immobilization. No. 4 would be to euthanize the animal. That’s only a last resort, when there’s a threat to public safety. From 2009 to June 30, 2012, we had 1,134 calls for bears, and 15 were immobilized. Of those 15, none were euthanized.

With the Brookline bear, there were about 200 people there, which made it a public safety issue. It wasn’t practical to ask the crowd to disperse.


We use a class of drug that depresses the central nervous system. They don’t lose consciousness. We deliver that in a dart, and the dart travels out of a specialized rifle. The ideal shot is in the shoulder area. The flank or the rump quarter is the second best. The farther from the head, the longer it will take for the drug to take effect. A dart travels similar to a bullet but slower. You shoot like a traditional rifle. You control your breathing. It takes practice and training.

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Perfect scenario is that the animal will fall in a contained area and won’t be able to run. This isn’t an exact science. Some animals die as a result, but that’s in the 1 to 2 percent range.

People may not perceive we’re doing the right thing, but we respond to these situations often, and we’re trying to protect their safety. At the end of the day, it’s the animal that pays the price. 

— As told to David Abel. Interview has been edited and condensed.