Today, a small part of our group went on a tundra buggy tour. This is controversial due to their environmental impact and the practices of the operators, as I explored in greater detail last year and therefore I didn't join them. Despite this, it is the standard method of bear viewing for other, less environmentally aware tour groups. This time, I received fewer disturbing reports about the driver’s behaviour than I experienced myself in 2010, but this variability only serves to reinforce the fact that there is insufficient supervision and monitoring by operators.
As if to reward those who chose lower impact tourism, those who stayed on the bus had a magical sighting of a mother and two cubs in the early morning sunlight, emerging from the tundra and crossing the road in front of us. I’m a keen photographer, and this allowed me to capture some images I will enjoy looking at for years to come (see the whole sequence below).
We also visited the Parks Canada site at Cape Merry, where the wind is always biting, and saw Polar Bear Jail, a building unique in the world. Chuck Jonkel was instrumental in lobbying to set up this bear management scheme. Jail is where bears at risk from human interaction are taken, and given no food, only water so as not to reward them. They are airlifted north when the ice forms, a strategy which is proving effective; and whilst unpleasant for the bears is preferable to them being shot. Sadly, Jail is almost full at present, with around 60 bears there.
This population has been swelled by 7 bears removed from Brian Ladoon’s property: I blogged in some detail about this last year. Ladoon has been over-feeding his dogs to attract bears, so he can then charge tourists to watch the spectacle of bears ‘playing with’, or at times being killed by, polar bears. When we passed Ladoon’s today, there was only one bear in the area, and it is encouraging that Manitoba Conservation is finally taking some action by removing bears to jail.
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Sunsets over Churchill are a moving experience