Well, the ice is still pretty erratic along Cape Churchill but pretty much all the bears are out on the ice hunting seals. The jail was emptied out around the 24th-26th I believe and even when more south winds arrived, most of the bears just floated away with the ice. It has been a strange ice formation year but, especially for an El Nino year, things could have been much worse.
As for Xena, she eventually left with her cubs, the night of the 26th. The folks in charge determined that her collar was properly fitted and therefore decided not to do anything. I do want to credit Nick Lunn at Environment Canada for offering a prompt reply to my concerns and fairly clear explanations of the importance of collars. However, we’ll agree to disagree.
Last I saw her, it looked like the collar might have been damaged or possibly tampered with but really its almost impossible to confirm any stories in the north, especially around Ladoon’s dog yard… maybe it will fall off a bit early, hard to say.
We have contacted a few designer/engineer types to try to work on a satellite bracelet, a transmitter that can be placed around the back leg of a bear instead of around its neck. A lot of people respond that the bears will simply ‘chew’ it off, but I’m not so sure. Back in the days when we trapped and studied polar bears with the ‘snare line’ – wire cables that trapped their paws – many simply accepted that they were ‘snared’ and settled down to wait and see what would happen next. If all the bears do chew them off, well that might be an indication that this type of research is just too invasive…
One real disappointment for me in this process is the misinformation spread by some parties. This myth that the bears can simply remove radio collars if they ‘really’ want to is absolutely incorrect. Adult male bears can slip the collars off… that’s why they are not collared, they just remove them. Female bears’ heads are larger than their neck, so they are stuck with them for two years or more – whether they are transmitting data or not. It is not ‘their ears’ that are holding the collars on… and shame on anyone for claiming that.
Either way, Xena is back out on the ice along with most bears. I still have confidence in this bear and hopefully both her cubs survive. But keep in mind that this will be in spite of the collars existence and only because of her hunting prowess. I am sure she ate some chicken at Ladoon’s, he has food conditioned bears for a long time, mostly for the safety of his dogs. The funny thing is that once she ate some chicken, she didn’t become a murderous bear and head straight for town… she just left for the ice when it arrived.
That’s how it always goes. Its hard to wrap your head around, but eventually you realize that a fed bear is not automatically a problem bear… garbage bears become the real problems, like the ones that are annual drawn to L5, Churchill’s recycling centre and the fires at the scrap metal dump. Hopefully that situation gets fixed soon… although I feel like I’ve been saying this for over a decade now…
Anyway, if you do want to continue the radio collar cause, I would suggest emailing the Munich Zoo. They sponsor an 11-year old mother, one that is very much in the prime of her life like Xena, and also a mother supporting two young cubs. This bear, ‘X19939‘, will face the same issues as Xena and is just as important to the population overall.
Again, if you are concerned with the practice of radio collaring and not just ‘Andy’, please email the corporate sponsors of the radio collaring program:
Munich Zoo – email@example.com
Vienna Zoo – firstname.lastname@example.org
Bering Time – email@example.com
Explore.org – firstname.lastname@example.org
These people all care about bears so please don’t send hate mail or crazy shit… but encourage them to look at new and non-invasive means of tracking bears, maybe even support our efforts to develop a ‘satellite bracelet’.
As for the rest of the bears in Hudson Bay, its a bit of a strange year. Ice charts for northern Hudson Bay indicate another strong year for Foxe Basin, a polar bear population that by all measures must be healthy and growing. In southern Hudson Bay, the ice look a little slow but, again, this population seems fairly stable and has been for many years now.
For Churchill’s bears, this is another ‘defining’ year… south and west winds meant a slow ice buildup on Cape Churchill. So, the bears down south along Cape Tatnum (Kaskatamagan) – and there are many of them summering there now – actually got a headstart over Churchill’s bears. This will once again reinforce to part of the population that they do not ‘need’ to walk north to Churchill. More and more bears will continue to summer and stage along Cape Tatnum. With the current study area focused on Wapusk National Park, it may be time to review some of our population estimates. Many healthy bears now seem to reside between the Nelson River and the Ontario border, effectively a ‘no man’s land’ of research.
Conservation was once again busy flying bears north this year, I believe over seventy bears were handled with many other pushed north across the Churchill River. It may be time to review the helicopter relocation program as well. Arviat, Nunavut is seeing record bear numbers and having some real issues with managing bears and people. With Churchill flying bears north, we are essentially moving them closer to this Inuit community where hunting is one of the main sources of income and community pride. Polar bear hunters from Rankin Inlet and Chesterfield are now travelling down to Arviat for the November 1st, the day polar bear tag season opens. It is time to really question whether Manitoba is unintentionally delivering bears to Inuit hunters, maybe just maybe we should start flying bears south to the Nelson River, a traditional area for this population.