Visitors to Churchill in November are virtually guaranteed polar bear sightings, because the bears know that this corner of Hudson Bay is where the ice begins to form with the onset of winter, allowing them to resume hunting.
Hunger drives the bears into the outskirts of town, overcoming their usual fear of man to forage for food. The closing of the town dump in 2005 was hoped to lessen the problem but every occupant has a tale of a close encounter, from the man who answered a knock at the door one night to find a bear standing there, to the woman who chased one from her porch with a whack from a broom on its posterior.
Any that do develop a taste for hanging around town sometimes have to be sedated by dart and taken to the enclosed bear compound outside Churchill near the airport. This bear jail can hold 28 miscreants and inmates are usually penned for about 30 days before being again sedated and airlifted by helicopter up the west coast of Hudson Bay and released under supervision. They are tagged, measurements are taken and a note of their condition made to help monitor the state of the area’s bear population.
Andrew Szklaruk and Bob Windsor from Manitoba Conservation are two of a team of six charged with keeping the streets free of bears. “We encourage them to move through town by using a truck like a sheepdog, or using cracker shells in a 12-bore gun to scare them,” they tell me. “Traps with a one-pound piece of seal meat in a burlap bag are placed around town to intercept bears. If neither of these works, we may have to dart them. The sedative takes 3-5 minutes so you have to be careful where and when you shoot them – not at dusk or near water.
“We haul the bear up a wood ramp with skids and strap it down. One 800-pound bear ended up in a ditch and seven of us really struggled to get him out.
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