By Paulette Roberge
Read more blog posts from Paulette’s trip with Polar Bears International (PBI).
A large adult polar bear casually circles the Tundra Buggy Lodge, evidently drawn by the scent of human dinner being prepared. The lodge is being buffeted by 60-km winds whipping off Hudson Bay. Nearby an Arctic fox is scavenging on the tundra, opportunistically monitoring the humans in the box on wheels, while keeping a respectful distance from the bear.
This is day two on the shores of Hudson Bay for the communicators and educators taking part in PBI’s first communicators’ camp. Yesterday was 18 hours of sensory input involving, in small part, a tour of a town (pop. 850) embracing eco-tourism and trappers Jim and Bette hosting us in their seaside cabin.
Jim, who is mixed Cree and Ojibway, was content to cede the floor to his Dene wife of 50 years, Bette. Their trap line is now worked by Parker, who hails from southern Manitoba, and is proudly introducing his 14-year-old son to a traditional way of life. Manitoba’s high school system allows his son to earn high school credits for trapping and hunting.
The lucrative trade in beaver, red fox, martin, wolf and wolverine was what also drew seventeenth-century French and English explorers who fought for supremacy at the mouth of the Churchill River. Fort remnants are scattered in an inhospitable landscape. Harsh weather eventually drove both victor and vanquished away.
And that’s the point of this small tale. Tonight’s weather may seem inclement but, really, it’s nothing compared to what those explorers endured. Or what Jim and Bette faced in checking their trap lines with dog teams some 30 years ago. Or what polar bears are accustomed to.
Now bears patiently wander the shore, sniffing the wind, waiting for sea ice to form so they can venture out to secure dinner – a delectable seal. It might take weeks.
Manitoba’s unique polar bear management program was the highlight of the day for me. My next blog will describe the world’s only polar bear holding facility (“jail” if you like), housed in the province’s largest wildlife management area at 848,000 hectares.
The buggy moves at an agonizingly slow pace (15 km per hour) navigating massive boulders and washed out tracks. But the group, largely educators from U.S. zoos, is animated and feeling privileged to be witnessing wilderness at close range – short-eared owls, willow ptarmigans, tundra swans, Arctic fox and a lesser yellowleg. Not to mention bears.
There’s much to learn. The buggy driver, Dave, hails from England but can recite Latin names for obscure Arctic fauna. So that we can remember one particular biology lesson, he asks:
“Why did the fungus and algae get married?”
“They took a lichen to each other.”
WWF Canada communications specialist, Paulette Roberge, attended the inaugural Polar Bears International Communicators Leadership Workshop where participants explored the tundra, collaborated on blogs and brainstormed ways to spread the urgent message of climate change impacts on polar bear habitats.