October 18, 2011

PART 2: Greetings from Churchill!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Greetings from Polar Bears International’s Communicator Leadership Camp in Churchill, MB and Happy Thanksgiving! After an early 21/2 hr flight from Winnipeg, and some Timmy’s coffee, we have finally arrived at our destination, the polar bear capital of the world!  

The day started off with a tour around town.  We met so many interesting people.  First was Karyne Jolicoeur, an interpreter from Parks Canada.  She took us to the Fort of Wales at Cape Merry, where we learned about the history of Churchill, dating back to the fur trade in the 1700s. We even got to see a couple of belugas playing in the estuary where the Churchill River and Hudson Bay meet. 

Next up was Bob Windsor, a conservation officer with Manitoba Conservation, who works at Churchill’s Polar Bear Holding Facility (calling it polar bear jail is highly frowned upon).  The Polar Bear Alert program works to keep problem bears away from the town and to keep both the residents of Churchill, and the bears, safe.  We learned about the scare tactics used, such as their newest technique of paintball guns, and I even got to shoot a pistol with “screamer bullets”, another hazing technique.  Click here to see a video discussing Churchill's Polar Bear Alert System.  If these scare tactics don’t work to scare the bear a safe distance from town, then they bear is captured via live trap or by darting it.  The bear is kept in the holding facility, which unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside of, for 30 days and then taken by helicopter 40 miles north to the coast and released.  It was interesting to learn that when we were there they had 9 bears in the facility, including a mom and her cub that they had been brought in earlier in the morning.  Of the 200 calls they have gotten to their 24-hotline so far this year, they have only had to capture and hold approximately 25, scare tactics worked for all others. 

Then it was finally time to load up the Tundra Buggy, complete with a stove for warmth, and head out to Frontiers North Adventures Tundra Buggy Lodge.  What a ride!  The roads we have been driving on were built by the Canadian and American military for their cold-weather training during the Cold War.  We saw a lot of wildlife such as various small birds and waterfowl, tundra swans, ptarmigans and even a silver fox (a color phase of the red fox).  He was very busy digging up a cache and didn’t mind us sneaking up closer to get a good look at how gorgeous he was.  Our driver, Buggy Bob, made sure to stop every time we thought we saw something, including many false alarms that turned out to be only white rocks.  With the Tundra Buggy Lodge in sight, I had just about given up hope that we would see a polar bear today.  It was ok with me though, we had plenty more time and at least I had seen a silver fox!  Do you know how rare this color phase is?  They only make up 5% of the red fox population in Alaska!  If you know me well enough, you know how much I adore red fox!  But just then we saw her sleeping on a bed of kelp along the coast of the bay.  An immediate hush came over the entire group.  She was so beautiful!  Before reaching the lodge we caught a glimpse of two more bears sleeping, one in the kelp and the other in the willows.  It’s pretty cool to think we have two polar bears sleeping outside our windows as I write this.  

Silver fox

Two adult tundra swans and their cygnet flying over the Tundra Buggy Lodge

Our first polar bear sighting of the week

Our second polar bear sighting of the week

What a beautiful sunset!

Before filling our bellies with a nice Thanksgiving meal, we took the opportunity to share how thankful we all were to be a part of this remarkable experience and to be able to share this experience with others to move them enough to make a change for polar bears.

Find more on my journey to Churchill here:


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