Thursday, March 22, 2012

Polar Bear Jail, a Revolution in Bear Management?

By now, some of you may have already heard of Manitoba, Canada's "polar bear jail", which is used to temporarily house bears that become a nuisance.

The town of Churchill is often referred to as the "polar bear capital of the world", playing host to a population of about 1,000. When the ice melts in spring and summer, the bears are cut off from the seals that make up their normal diet and they descend upon Churchill looking for a supplement.

When these bears get into trouble, they are captured and transferred to an abandoned aircraft hanger containing 28 individual cells, each about six square feet wide. Snow is pushed through the bars to supply them with water but they are given no food (polar bears typically fast on stored fat reserves during the summer just as black and grizzly bears do in the winter) and have no contact with their human captors. After serving a sentence that is often dictated by the severity of the "crime", the bears are released and usually take enough away from the experience to stay out of trouble from then on.

I think this is a great idea and I wonder why something like this hasn't been implemented in Alaska. It's certainly better and more humane than bullets and the best part is that with no direct human contact, the bears will not develop a heightened aggression towards people. Instead they would learn valuable, life-saving lessons. I think this could be a revolutionary idea in bear management and I would hope that wildlife organizations around the world will take the idea into consideration. How can we help promote this concept and persuade people to put down their guns and make more of an effort to save bears lives? If the polar bear jail continues to be an effective deterrent, maybe someone will start to listen.

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