When advising where and when to travel in polar bear country, Parks Canada’s main approach in dealing with polar bears is to avoid them. When your goal is to see a polar bear in their natural environment, avoidance isn’t your objective. Accordingly for 30+ years, the way we’ve brokered safe polar bear-and-human interactions with guests from all over the world is to explore polar bear country with polar bears remaining safely in their environment and us remaining safely out of a polar bears reach in ours, a Tundra Buggy®.
Recently we came across a story on the Daily Mail UK website that included incredible photographs recently captured by one of our guests on our Legendary Cape Churchill Adventure in Parks Canada’s Wapusk National Park (see the original photos and information here). As it turns out the Daily Mail article inaccurately portrays what was captured in the original photos. Since the Daily Mail did not contact us to verify the story, we thought we’d take this opportunity to provide the facts.
The Daily Mail photos depict a mother polar bear and her cub, claiming “Starving polar bears [are] forced to eat grease and oil coming off the visiting [Tundra Buggies®]” and suggesting our company purposefully attracts polar bears using Tundra Buggy oil and lubricants, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Annually from late-November until early-June polar bears embark upon Hudson Bay sea ice to hunt and eat ringed seals, accessible to the bears at this time of year from the sea-ice platform. It’s during these winter months that it is integral for polar bears to build-up valuable fat reserves because during the summer and autumn months, when there is no sea ice in West Hudson Bay near Churchill, polar bears are landlocked and forced to live off of their stored fat. This is the way polar bears have been living for eons and their bodies are well adapted to this annual fast. This is the polar bears’ version of hibernation.
Polar Bears are curious animals. Even though little-to-no food value is derived, polar bears are often observed on land licking lichen-covered rocks and eating washed ashore seaweed. It’s in this same manner that polar bears are observed, as shown by the photos, investigating Tundra Buggies.
Years ago when the products were made available to the market, our entire Tundra Buggy fleet transitioned to environmentally friendly propylene glycol (i.e. engine coolant) and mineral oil lubricants, both whose Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) indicate no negative environmental impact.
It’s our position that to safely travel in the most dense aggregation of polar bears in the world we require a method to keep both polar bears and humans safe. It’s also our position that if polar bears are going approach and to interact with our Tundra Buggies, that we make that process as benign as possible for the bears. Also consider if polar bears didn’t want to be near Tundra Buggies, that they have literally hundreds of thousands of other square kilometres they could go.
Other measures we at Frontiers North Adventures have taken to ensure the safety of polar bears and our guests:
Our Tundra Buggy fleet travels on an existing network of trails, in effect reusing existing infrastructure. The trail network was created in the 1940s and 1950s by the military.
Grey water generated on the Tundra Buggy Lodge is reclaimed and used to flush toilets. That waste water is then transported back to Churchill to the town’s water management facility. The grey water nor waste water we generate ever touch the ground or are accessible to the bears.
Frontiers North Adventures staffs a Safety Officer, annually reviewing our polar bear safety plan and providing our field staff polar bear- and firearms-safety training.
In the past we’ve received inquiries from folks wanting to better understand why, if as the media has lead them to believe -- that polar bear are starving, why companies like ours on the front line don’t feed them. We have a few reasons why we don’t feed polar bears, including that in Manitoba Conservation’s Churchill Wildlife Management Area and Parks Canada’s Wapusk National Park (where we operate our polar bear tours), it is illegal to feed wildlife and punishable by a $25,000 fine and/or 6 months in prison.
Today it is commonly known that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’. When a polar bear is fed by humans then the bear becomes habituated to human food sources and is therefore more likely to approach human settlements in search of food. When polar bears approach human settlements, like the community of Churchill, they can expect (at best) to be hazed or, as was the case too often during 2013 in Churchill, to be terminated. We know that it’s not in polar bears’ best interest, nor in the interest of our guests, for us to feed bears or other wildlife, so we don’t do it.
So yes - bears may end up licking or biting at our Tundra Buggies; but it is benign for them to do so because we had the foresight to realize that in order to protect them we needed to switch to edible options. Not in order to entice the bears, but simply to make sure that when bears are being bears, they aren’t being harmed in any way.