We have an opportunity to help a bear but we need to move quickly. A few days ago, a radio collared female with two COYs (cubs of the year) showed up at Mile Five, Brian Ladoon’s dog kennel on the outskirts of Churchill. She is healthy, with a good layer of fat even after summering on land. A powerful bear that I nicknamed Xena.
Xena is a great looking bear, she looks to be a dominant female, maybe 12-15 years old. Bears like this are the prime producers in a population, usually raising both cubs successfully. In a normal year, Xena would be hanging out at Cape Churchill, shoulder to shoulder with the largest boars in this population, holding her own in western Hudson Bay’s most prime real estate.
The collar she wears is brand new – probably placed on her in early November. It looks tight and she looks uneasy, still recovering from the stresses of being handled.
At Ladoon’s, she keeps her cubs on a tight leash, chuffing and smacking her lips like a drill sergeant, teaching them how to survive. She has ‘tolerated’ a sub-adult female almost allowing her into her own family at times. She has chased a large male, Scratchy, who probably just wanted to play, and then stood down another larger male, who was more about showing off than play. After watching her stand up for herself today and essentially stand down bears almost twice her size, it just struck me that we should at least try to help this bear.
Of course, this is a bear that shouldn’t need anyone’s help. Under normal circumstances, she would never show up at Ladoon’s dog yard or in town. Prime females like this are essentially at the top of the hierarchy in the bear world, she is likely one of the best hunters in western Hudson Bay. A smart and confident animal. Bears, like Xena, are our ‘hope’ in a changing climate.
Radio collars change behaviour, we see it every year. Everyone who has encountered radio collared bears knows that something is just not ‘right’, not fair in a sense. Newly collared bears are restless and confused, bears with old collars just look ‘weary’, degraded. Ask anyone with real bear experience.
Peer-reviewed papers will be cited to defend radio collars and from a computer screen or a helicopter, they seem just fine. But on the ground, you would be hard pressed to find a bear-viewing guide or an Inuit hunter that doesn’t say radio collars negatively affects bears’ lives. The Inuit have lobbied hard to stop invasive research like radio collars and met with mixed results.
Xena will likely help someone get their Masters’ Degree and be another footnote in a long-term study. Well-meaning folks will have a contest online to give her and other collared bears ‘names’ so we can ‘follow’ them for fun. None of these names will reflect their personality but they will instead ‘become’ disney bears, better able to raise funds, likely for more collars.
For Xena, the information gleaned from this collar is now skewed, of no value to science. Now that she has entered Ladoon’s dogyard, he, like all of us would, has probably has felt sorry for her and ‘helped’ her out a bit. Fair enough, that’s his way; I think we’d all help mothers and cubs if given the chance, especially those stuck with radio collars for a year or maybe more. (Read about ‘Andy’ the bear below…) Either way, the collar and, as a result, Ladoon have changed these bears’ natural path to the ice.
Whatever the scenario, this collar is too tight. Imagine this spring when Xena consumes 80% or more of her annual diet. How do you think this collar will affect her when she is reaching into seal birth lairs or down breathing holes in the ice. It certainly won’t ‘help’ her hunt and provide for her family. Its ‘free Sundays’ at Ladoon’s today, drive out and check for yourself. Ask yourself how you feel watching this bear.
To me, we are risking the survival of these cubs for information that will provide very little or no added benefit to our global knowledge of polar bears. And that’s a real shame.
Polar Bear Alley will ask Manitoba Conservation to tranquilize this bear this week and remove the collar before she leaves on the ice. Along with a few other guides, we are willing to act as bear security to ensure that no bears in or around Ladoon’s dogs are harmed in this process. We have a few days. It can be done.
Initially, I will be contacting the following people today to try to get this collar removed. If you want to add your support, that would be greatly appreciated:
Wayde Roberts, Northern Regional Director, Manitoba Conservation
(I believe Wayde is in Churchill this week, he should be able to authorize the removal of the collar.)
Or fill out the Manitoba Conservation Contact Form here
Brett Wlock, District Supervisor, Churchill, Manitoba Conservation
Krista Wright, Executive Director, Polar Bears International
(The radio collar appears new and is likely part of Polar Bears International’s latest round of radio collars)
Or fill out the Polar Bears International contact form here
If you want to help Xena, start by emailing Wayde, Brett and Krista today. They are the ones that can truly make this happen.
Note: The ice has been pushed off shore, unless Xena left last night, this should buy us a few more days to remove this radio collar and release her and her family back into the wild.
Radio Collared Bears in Kaktovik Alaska
Given the recent uproar about ‘Andy’ a male bear in Kaktovik named after researcher Andrew Derocher, its really time to rethink this whole radio collaring strategy. Andy is apparently a male polar bear that was collared somewhere between 2007 and 2011 by the Derocher’s team at the University of Alberta.
Its very hard to believe but he may have been wearing this collar for five years or more. The skin on his neck is worn and bloody, the collar old and damaged. The tour operator in Kaktovik who is associated with the ‘Andy’ photograph, apparently, did not want to be identified because it might harm his relationship with USGS and they give out the permits.
This was dismissed as a case of collaring a male bear, a mistake if you will. However, during my visit this fall, I witnessed another bear in the Kaktovik area this year with an extremely tight radio collar. It was an obese female with a single cub. In Churchill, another collared polar bear family, besides Xena’s, passed through recently. She had two cubs but, as with most radio collared females, she was restless and just kept moving through, never truly settling down.
So, that’s four radio collared bears that I, personally, know about just this season, three that I have seen and a fourth whose image is circulating on the internet. All four appear to be under duress or at least in some discomfort because of the radio collars. It makes you wonder about all those other bears that we don’t get to meet.