It is estimated that there are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears left in the world. 16,000 (about two-third) of these polar bears live in Canada and 800 of these bears hang around the Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba, which is built along a polar bear migration route. Manitoba is named the polar bear capital of the world for this reason.
The presence of the bears has become a problem for residents of Manitoba, forcing the government to introduce programs to capture, detain and re-release the bears far into the wild after they complete their detention.
Human and wild animal meetings generally don’t end well — either for one or both parties — and polar bears are no exception. Their presence is a problem for the townspeople who sometimes encounter hungry polar bears that stroll into the town to see what they can get from the waste bins.
Because of this, residents of Churchill avoid walking at night during the colder season when the bears stop hibernating and start migrating to their seal hunting grounds. Citizens also leave their car doors unlocked during this period in case their neighbors need a quick getaway from prowling bears.
In the past, people shot the prowling bears to death. Sometimes, the polar bear have the upper hand, like in the 1960s when one killed a child. Or in 2013 when one attacked a lady that had been walking home at night and a man that attacked it with a shovel when trying to save her. Both survived the incident while the bear was later shot.
The Polar Bear Prison
It was incidents like these that prompted the creation of the Polar Bear Alert Program. Once contacted about the presence of a bear, helicopter-borne agents armed with non-lethal weapons are dispatched to capture or chase away prowling bears.
Bears found outside the town’s limits are chased away with non-lethal crackers and paint guns while those found inside the town are tranquilized or trapped and transported to the Polar Bear Holding Facility — a modified military hanger converted into a 28-bear-capacity prison.
Detained bears are held in the prison for a month and are only fed snow and water to discourage them from ever returning.
After one month of incarceration, they are tranquilized to force them to sleep, tagged so they can be monitored and tattooed so they can be identified in the future before they are finally transported back into the wild by helicopter.
More than two thousand bears (almost 10 percent of the world’s polar bear population) have been detained at the facility.
Some Bears Still Return
Like humans, there are some repeat offenders, like an infamous 800 pound male known as “bear 19173,” which returns to the town almost every year despite several arrests and imprisonments. Guess it hasn’t yet learned its lesson.
Whichever, if you know a polar bear, tell it to stay away from Churchill.