Sunday, December 11, 2011

Part VI: When good bears go "bad"

(Please start with Part I, and work your way up, if you haven't already!) 
Living peaceably surrounded by hundreds of hungry, bored and curious bears can be a challenge for humans. The good people of Churchill set limits, but bears ignore the signs and sometimes--well, apparently, fairly often--wander into town, where there might be garbage, dog food, or other nutritious edibles, and where they can be entertained by antics, and destructible property, of humans. Needless to say, this is very problematic, so when a bear is spotted in the neighborhood, it's seriously discouraged with firecrackers and blanks. Some bears aren't impressed. Those that don't go away usually find themselves entrapped...
Polar bear traps waiting to be deployed around town from the Holding Facility
...and consigned to the Churchill Polar Bear Holding Facility, aka, the Polar Bear Jail, which consists of a huge quonset hut with 30 cinder-block cells inside, dim lighting for sensory deprivation, and only chunks of ice to gnaw on, with the intention of delivering a miserably aversive, but harmless, message. Sentences are 10-30 days long. When their sentence is up, the parolee gets a free helicopter lift to a remote location to await freeze-up of Hudson's Bay without human interference (or vice-versa).
One day, when we happened not to be out on the tundra, our guide got wind of an impending release, which our group and a few others were invited to observe.
Looks just like the roadside in Yellowstone, but in micro-miniature
We set up, the Manitoba Natural Resources officers set up, the jail door swings open, and out comes a four-wheeler with a well-sedated big white bear flopped on a flatbed trailer. The four-wheeler lines up with a net splayed on the ground, and next thing we know, the bear is ready to wrap. Although the day was very dull, since she had been kept in an unlighted cell for days, the kerchief over her eyes allows her to adapt slowly to the relative brightness of the outdoors:
As if this wasn't already plenty cool enough, the door swings open again, and out comes the four-wheeler again, this time with a good-sized cub on it:

Large cub, probably coming into its second winter
While a wildlife officer secures a tow rope to the bottom of the 'copter for Mom, Little Bear gets to ride in the back seat. Our guide Sandra tells us it will be seat-belted in.
The sedated cub looks like a toy polar bear
Baby on board, Mom well-secured, and without further ado, the helicopter lifts off and the slack comes out of the rope around her net:
Mom, who looks entirely relaxed and oblivious swinging up there in the cold air, has a big blob of green paint on her back. I have heard different explanations but understand this is a conventional way of marking bears that have been incarcerated. Although it's unlikely the Inuit would want to hunt and eat such a skinny bear (she's been nearly fasting, after all, since June), especially one with a cub, and what's more, I assume there is no hunting allowed in the Wildlife Management Area, in other regions and at other times of the year a hunter would surely want to know if the bloodstream and flesh of a bear contained a major sedative before shooting it for food.
Bye bears! Have a wonderful winter! See ya' next year! NOT.

Go to Part VII.

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