There’s an electric fence in WWF’s Ottawa office, and a motion detector’s siren blares at the first unlucky staffer to walk through the kitchen. We’re not under siege or playing jokes on each other (well, maybe a little). This setup is being tested for a more serious purpose — keeping researchers safe in polar bear country.
Next week, A WWF-led research team, a Canon photographer, and crew will travel to Siberia’s Arctic coast on the Laptev Sea, to help solve a scientific mystery. Are the Laptev’s polar bears and walruses related to populations to the east and west? The answer to this mystery may have implications for the management of the entire region.
Arctic beaches are the most practical place for our research camp, but they’re also a polar bear pathway. Coexisting with these large predators is risky, and we’ll be sleeping in tents, not buildings.
So what’s in our safety bag?
- Experience: Several of the team are used to working in bear country and will make sure the campsite is well situated and plans are in place if bears come near.
- Eyes and ears: The best bet in bear country is to stay alert for potential trouble and take early action. That’s why we’ll take turns on watch, day and night.
- 4 small motion/heat detectors: To alert sleeping campers, or scare curious animals away from our gear. Because its range is limited, it’s most suitable for small spaces.
- Trip wire: A small physical barrier around the perimeter of our camp, which sets off an audible alarm if broken.
- Electric fence: The final physical barrier. It’s not connected to an alarm, but it will give a quick, strong, but harmless shock if a bear makes it past the other devices and gets too close to our sleeping tents.
- Ideally, we would also have individual canisters of bear spray (pepper spray), but it’s just not available in remote Russia and challenging to ship.
If all goes well, we will spot and scare the bears away before they get close enough to trigger the alarm.
Download the polar bear alarm (and set it as a ringtone…?)
Although we’ll be sharing space with polar bears for just two weeks, many people in the Arctic have adapted to living with the bears year-round. Learn how communities coexist with their polar bear neighbours here.