Churchill is a tiny town along the Hudson Bay, remote and inaccessible by car since no road has ever been built. This remoteness is not to everybody’s liking and it takes a strong mind and an adventurous spirit to decide a move to Churchill is a good idea.
That’s probably why polar bears outnumber humans in Churchill, and while this makes Churchill an amazing place to visit for polar bear safaris, it also makes it a hot-bed for human-wildlife conflict. This is no joking matter when the wildlife in question is the world’s largest carnivore that is likely not to have eaten for over 3 months.
At the beginning of November, clients Annemiek Van Gijn and Carsten Gerlach from the Netherlands, witnessed first-hand the manner in which “problem bears” are dealt with in Churchill. “Problem bears” are Churchill’s bad boys, who regularly enter the town in search of food (anything from the contents of a rubbish bin to a drunken resident on his way home from the local) and are no longer deterred by the sound of gun-shots emitted by Churchill’s Polar Bear Alert.
These 400kg miscreants are darted and put into captivity where they are encouraged to consider the consequences of their anti-social behaviour. In reality, their time inside is easy porridge with a regular supply of seal blubber and constant care and attention.
Once the sea ice has reformed and is thick enough for a helicopter to land, the polar bears are released in a procedure that takes skill and bravery. The bears are sedated and placed in a heavy duty harness which is winched up into the air by a helicopter. The helicopter slowly makes its way out across the tundra into the frozen wilderness, hundreds of miles away from the residents of Churchill where the polar bear will be gently landed and given an anti-sedative to wake it up.
This is an expensive but effective antidote to human-polar bear conflict and research data shows that those bears who do time and are relocated, learn their lesson and never return to Churchill.