Black Bear
A black bear rests in a pond at the Banglamung Wildlife Breeding Center near Bangkok, Thailand. Reuters

There is such a thing as too much chocolate, it turns out -- at least if you’re a black bear. Cocoa killed four of the animals in New Hampshire last fall, state wildlife officials said this week. The news is sparking fresh debate in the wildlife community over whether chocolate bait should still be allowed for hunting, according to media reports.

Two adult female bears and two cubs died in September after overdosing on theobromine, a chemical compound in cocoa that triggers heart failure, seizers, vomiting and other painful responses in animals, the University of New Hampshire reported in its necropsy and toxicology reports. The bears’ bodies were originally found within 50 feet of where a hunter had set out 90 pounds of chocolate and donuts.

Bear hunting is allowed in New Hampshire from September through mid-November to help control the state’s rising bear population. While trapping bears is illegal, baiting is permitted for the four weeks in September. Hunters often opt to use chocolate as bait because it is cheap and easy to find, Andrew Timmins, a wildlife biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, told CNN.

Timmins presented the reports to the state Fish and Game Commission at a Wednesday meeting. He said the New Hampshire case is significant because the four bears represent an unprecedented number of dead bodies to find at a single bait site, and because it’s rare that scientists can prove a direct link between chocolate and the death of adult bears, the Concord Monitor newspaper reported.

“We are a landmark example,” Timmins told the commission. In the wake of the findings, Timmins and other wildlife staff are proposing to modify state regulations on bear baiting to minimize the risk of chocolate poisoning. “The most efficient, effective and enforceable way to eliminate this in the future is to eliminate the chances of any species becoming toxified by chocolate, and to remove chocolate from the woods,” he said at the meeting.

The proposal could face stiff opposition from New Hampshire’s hunting community, however. Dave Nickerson, an audience member at the meeting, said he was skeptical of the toxicology report and suggested that antifreeze could be the cause of death, according to the Concord Monitor. Another audience member, Krista Belanger, agreed. “A little bit more study has to be done,” she said.