Churchill Wants Polar Bears to Stay Home

Churchill is famous for its polar bears and has been dubbed the Polar Bear Capital of the World for a destination to see numerous polar bears in and around the town.

Now Churchill Mayor Mike Spence wants to have serious conversations with the provincial government about finding alternatives to shipping the animals to Winnipeg and other destinations where they ultimately end up spending the rest of their lives in zoos.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence wants polar bears to have alternatives other than being sent south to Winnipeg.CBC photo.


Churchill Mayor Mike Spence and other Churchillians are concerned the old habit of just relocating orphaned cubs is outdated and archaic. The most recent capture of a pair of orphaned polar bear cubs from different mothers by provincial conservation officers has them talking and advocating for a different fate for the animals.

“It has always been an issue here,” says Spence.

“Polar bears are a critical part of the community. But once you have taken them out of the population, that’s it. They’re gone. I’ve told the minister we want to sit down and talk.

polar bears churchill, MB

Polar bear cubs approach the polar rover within a few feet. Jeff Klofft photo.

“We want to get more research on polar bears. We need to do things differently. We can’t just continue to do nothing other than shipping them off to zoos.”

According to Spence, ideas for changing the current protocol include tracking devices to monitor the bears’ travel and a facility designed to allow the bears to be reintroduced into the harsh northern environment.

“We need to do something more than just saying, ‘Another bear gone to the zoo,’” he said. “We don’t accept sending cubs to captivity is the answer.”

The latest capture, like nearly all the polar bears relocated in recent years, will end up at Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

Statistics, as vague as they might be, tend to point to unfavorable survival rates when young abandoned cubs are left in the wild. Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires states that scientists know there is little hope for those animals.

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Polar bears living out their lifespan in the Netherlands Wildlands Zoo. Sheng – Wen Lo photo.

“The unfortunate reality is that young cubs have very little chance of survival without their mother,” Squires said.

“Without a female to protect them, cubs are highly vulnerable to natural predators and also to the significant risk of starvation. Polar bear cubs depend on their mothers until they are about 2 1/2 years of age, by which time they’ve grown and learned to hunt for their own food.”

“Polar bears truly are irreplaceable and we consider them a jewel for the community of Churchill. For that reason, we will continue to devote resources to managing polar bears in the area and producing new research that supports their sustainability. While the Department of Sustainable Development is keenly focused on ensuring their survival, our government is committed to working collaboratively with the community to determine the future of these orphaned polar bears cubs.”

Let’s hope these new ideas come to fruition in the near future. Polar bears should be in the wild not automatically sent to zoos without exploring other options.

Orphaned Polar Bear Cubs Relocated to Assiniboine Zoo

Two orphaned polar bear cubs were discovered in the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area near York Factory on the southeastern Hudson Bay coast. After an extensive search failed to locate the mother, Manitoba Conservation decided to relocate the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. The pair were 10 months old in early fall when they were moved to the zoo and they join two cubs relocated from the Churchill area in late October.

polar bear in helicopter Manitoba Canada.

Polar bear cub being relocated by helicopter from Hudson Bay area. province of Manitoba photo.


Polar bear cubs chance of survival is nearly impossible under the age of two. Bear cubs stay with their mothers for two full winters in order to learn skills such as hunting out on the pack ice.

Recent discoveries of wolves preying on polar bears in the Kaskatamagan area provoke thought on the mother’s disappearance. Although there’s no evidence of adult polar bears being taken by wolves, there have been documented occurrences of cubs being lured away and killed by wolves. This is pretty incredible news since polar bears have been perennial kings of the food chain. Further news on this issue will be worth watching.

Common procedure in relocating polar bear cubs to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre at the zoo in Winnipeg calls for a medical exam and a 30 – day quarantine period in which the bears are isolated from public or media interaction.

Once in Winnipeg, the cubs will go through a 30-day quarantine during which they will be kept isolated from the public and media.

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Polar bear cub being examined by veteranarian. Province of Manitoba photo.

In late October two 11 – month old male polar bear cubs came to the zoo after a civilian in Churchill accidentally shot the cubs mother with a cracker shell. Cracker shells are used to scare bears away from the area though this one struck the mother causing heavy blood loss and eventually death. Manitoba Conservation decided it was the best scenario form the bears to spend their lives in the zoo to insure their survival.

“Polar bears at this age (11 months) need to stay with their mothers for at least the first two winters to learn how to hunt and to avoid attacks by other, larger polar bears,” the province said in a news release.”Polar bear experts have advised that cubs of this age do not have any chance of survival if left on their own.”

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