Education Key To Polar Bear Survival
The chunky shape ahead might be a rock. But staring through binoculars out the windows of our tundra buggy—a vehicle that resembles an oversized school bus on five-foot high wheels—we see movement. “It’s a polar bear,” says Glenn Hopfner, the driver. “Polar bears can fool you by blending with the landscape.”
The 12 passengers from Europe, Australia and the U.S. are on a packaged tour arranged by Frontiers North Adventures in Winnipeg to see the famous bears of Churchill, Canada, an outpost of 1,100 inhabitants in the Canadian Sub-Arctic, known as “the polar bear capitol of the world.” Polar bears gather here annually and wait for the ice to form so they can walk out on it for several months of feasting on ringed seals they hunt below its crust.
There’s a new passion for polar bear tours because of the dire predictions that climate change could diminish their population worldwide by two-thirds in the next 50 years. Scientists here say that after a two decade warming trend the ice melting earlier and forming later, cutting into the polar bears hunting season and the population is decreasing.
“Educating the public is a key to the bears’ survival,” says Robert Buchanan, president of Polar Bears International, over lunch in at Gypsy’s in town. He tells me his organization offers a Leadership Camp for students to learn about issues bears face and work with scientists, so they can go home and educate others via public forums. “Your readers should check us out at www.polarbearsinternational.org,” he advises.
Tour leader, Angèle Watrin Prodaehl, an honors biologist, engages participants with climate change facts as the tundra buggy grinds along over a mesmerizing landscape of lakes, boulders and the muted colors of the tundra “Female bears are slimmer due to less hunting time on the ice,” she says. She adds, “It means they may be able to nourish only one cub rather than the usual two.”
There are frequent stops for photo-ops like cubs sparing, bears snoozing in the sun, and a bear trying to peek into the Tundra Buggy Lodge. Toward the end of the tour, driver Glen points out a bearded seal. “They’re rare here,” he says, and that word—“rare” also describes the entire polar bear experience. For tour info, go to www.frontiersnorth.com.