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Walking With Polar Bears

These many years Sanctuary has focused its articles almost exclusively on Asia, but clearly the world is getting smaller and hotter, and climate change issues are best exemplified by the fate of the Arctic and Antarctic. This is why we requested author Geetika Jain to send us this piece, to remind us of the beauty and the fragility of the only planet capable of hosting life as we know it.

The exemplary diversity of wildlife along Canada’s Hudson Bay includes a population of almost 800 polar bears and more than 500,000 of their staple prey, the ringed seals. Photo: Anjali Singh 

I am on the western edge of Canada’s Hudson Bay, an enormous semi-enclosed sea that freezes up each winter. It is early November; last year this week the temperature hovered around 50 C, but this year it’s exceptionally cold and I’m discovering what minus 350 C feels like. The wind, they say, is the fiercest creature of the north. I feel its ferocious malintent as it roars and yowls; it feels as if it is out to snuff my candle. I’m strait-jacketed by layers of cladding, my fogged ski-goggles are blinding me and my extremities have learnt to scream silently in pain. Yet, my excitement is unabated. We are on the lookout for the earth’s largest land carnivore, a charismatic hunter evolved perfectly to thrive in the Arctic winter – Ursus maritimus, the polar bear.

There are around 25,000 polar bears in the circumpolar region according to Polar Bear International, and 60 per cent of them have locational fidelity to Canadian lands. Right here, at 57 degrees north, the Hudson Bay is the world’s most southerly home to a population of around 800 bears. We counted 28 of them flying low in a bush plane from the town of Churchill to Nanuk, a remote lodge run by Churchill Wild. We saw giant solitary males kicking up snow dust as they ran, sparring sub-adults and gently padding females with cubs, all along the edge of the bay, heading north, waiting for it to freeze so they can hunt seals that haul up on to the ice.

IN CANADA’S WILDERNESS

This region of Canada is replete with wildlife; there are over 800 ringed seals in Hudson Bay, as well as bearded seals. In the summer, enormous pods of beluga whales and even orcas arrive to feed on the ample fish. On the...

 
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