Churchill wants to keep their orphan polar bear cubs
The polar bear has long been known as one of Canada’s most distinguishing characteristics and now, residents of Churchill, Manitoba say that it is about time that Canada stop sending their orphan cubs to southern zoos.
The small town, with a population of approximately 900 residents is a major tourist atraction, as people flock north to, for the most part check out the dwindling number of polar bears.
Churchill’s orphan cubs are often captured and sent to a conservation centre in Winnipeg, where bears are featured as part of an Arctic exhibit.
Churchill residents have had enough
“It’s time we do things differently,” says Mike Spence, the mayor of Churchill.
“What we’ve been going through over the last number of years with orphan cubs directly going to the zoo is not an option. We’ve heard that loud and clear from community members,” Spence said.
“The fact is, naturally, bears belong in the wild,” says Spence, who suggested putting tagging chips on cubs so that their exact whereabouts can always be known.
“I don’t think there’s a bear in the area that’s not habituated anymore. I mean, let’s face it,” says Spense. “It’s just outside-the-box thinking, rather than doing the usual thing of saying okay we’ve got an orphan cub and off they go to Winnipeg or places like that.”
Cubs can’t make it on their own
According to Stephen Petersen, current chair of the council, and head of conservation and research for the Assiniboine Park Zoo, cubs need to stay with their mothers for up to 2-and-a-half years, so that their mothers can show them how to hunt.
“We don’t really have any evidence that bear cubs this young can survive,” he says
He goes on to say that solitary cubs left on their own have a zero percent chance of surviving.
“As far as we know, their chance of survival would be zero.”
As for why there appears to be a higher than normal number of orphan cubs living in Churchill, Petersen says that he has no idea why this is.
“How do they become orphans? That’s a really rich area to try and understand better in order to try and mitigate bears coming into this situation. We don’t really understand how that happens.”
“I did hear loud and clear not just from the mayor but from other members of the community,” Rochelle Squires, Manitoba’s minister of sustainable development, tells Maclean’s. “The bears mean a tremendous amount to the community in Churchill.”
This is most certainly true, as the little town has built up quite a sustainable industry based on their popular tourist attraction.
Since 2013, 11 orphaned cubs have been captured in Churchill and sent off to the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.
The most recent polar bear transfer was of two cubs, one male and one female. Officials have confirmed that the pair are not siblings.
The pair of cubs have not long arrived at their new home and according to Petersen, they are just learning the lay of their land.
“Now that they’re here they’re just kind of getting used to the new environment and the new way of life they’ll be going through as they grow up here.”
The cubs spent some time in quarantine to make sure they were not carrying any parasites. They were also kept apart for 30 days before being introduced to the public.
According to Squires, one option that is being considered in order to keep orphan bears in Churchill is to create a rehabilitation facility where the cubs could be housed until they are big enough and old enough to take care of themselves.
It is estimated that as many as 60 percent of the world population of polar bears call Canada their home.