Polar Bears: Nature's Ambassador
The polar bear is one of the most iconic, photogenic, and heart-wrenching ambassadors for animal conservation and habitat preservation for many of us. This enormous teddy bear ranks in the top ten of beloved wild animals, but it is essential to remember that despite the cuteness factor, polar bears are dangerous.
We are tremendously proud of our polar bear population in Canada, estimated at 16,000 (20-25,000 worldwide). Serious endeavors of protecting this culturally and spiritually important animal are an ongoing battle.
The Greek word for bear stems from the word arctic.
Nanuk means polar bear in Inuktitut, and its meaning suggests master of the bears. (Nanuk is also a mascot for the Edmonton CFL team and locker room protector & mentor.)
While a polar bear’s fur is white, its skin is black.
This magnificent marine animal is equipped with webbed feet that make it a natural and powerful swimmer as its massive paws act like oars. On thin ice, these paws act like snowshoes and displace their weight while walking. And unlike other bears, polar bears are not territorial.
One of the most popular places in Canada to witness this vital polar bear habitat happens to be Churchill, Manitoba, which lies far north and on roughly the same parallel as Stockholm, Sweden, or Inverness, UK. However, both of those locations experience much milder climates. Churchill is in a subarctic climate; influenced by the Hudson Bay, and lacks a gulf stream. But it is perfect for polar bears and the 899 persons who make this northern metropolis their home. They live in relative harmony with the bear.
Churchill became a tourist and ecotourism center in the 1980s, but the human population has declined steadily since 1981. To date, 67% of the people are Indigenous, 27 % are non-native. The non-native population is of primarily European origin, but you will also meet a small percentage of Black Canadians and Latin Americans. Indigenous, Chipewyans, Swampy Cree, and Metis have been making a home in this barren part of the world for at least 1000 years, long before the first Danish explorer, Jens Munk, arrived and wintered among them in 1619.
Churchill enjoys modern amenities like a multiplex cinema, a health clinic, a hockey rink, a curling and basketball facility, a library, an indoor pool, and a museum that exhibits Inuit carvings. The town caters to tourism and is aptly named the Polar Bear Capital of the World.
Visitors can hire tundra vehicles equipped with special gear to safely view bears and other arctic wildlife like foxes, beluga whales, narwhals, and a thriving bird species (270 documented) in this fascinating terrain 0n the west shore of Manitoba on the Hudson Bay. The economy relies heavily on tourism and thrives during the busy bear season from October to November. Beluga whales calf from July to August. In summer, polar bears practice what is called walking hibernation and eat very little.
Studies have also shown that polar bears initially thought to be solitary form alliances when the ice is out. When the hunt for ringed seals begins once the water freezes over, it’s every bear for himself. Ringed seals are their favorite meal but bear also eat bearded seals, walrus, beluga, narwhals. Females go for up to 8 months without eating seals when they have cubs, one of the longest fasting periods known. A cub only weighs one pound when born, and most births are twins. Females are about half the size of males, 450-650lbs, while males top out at 1100-1300lbs, and their life expectancy is 20-25 years. Cubs remain with the mother on average for 2.5 years but can leave sooner or later, pending the situation.
For those interested in visiting Churchill, an average five-day tour, including a tundra vehicle excursion, will cost approximately USD 4,000 per person. Flight not included.
But there is no doubt the experience will be priceless and breathtakingly unforgettable.
For fun, try choosing just one polar bear image. It's impossible!
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