Welcome to Churchill, the town where polar bears exist in equal number to humans. Co-existence has always been both dangerous and delicate – supported by the recognition that humans are not the dominant predator in this region.
For six weeks every year, Churchill, Canada is in the primary migration path of the polar bear community. The bears, who haven’t had a decent meal in months, find their way to this sleepy town along the Hudson Bay, where they will wait for the water to become ice, meaning seals can become dinner.
Passing by Churchill has never presented a major problem until now. Now, the Arctic is experiencing the toasty repercussions of climate change. Warmer weather means that the ice forms later. Delayed ice means hungrier bears hanging around this Hudson Bay hub.
I’ll let you imagine the consequences.
As a guest on a Natural Habitat polar bear tour, I was not only a spectator to the amazing polar bears in the
In a destination where human-wildlife conflict is a constant worry, the local community first needed to be convinced that these majestic bears were more beneficial to the town alive than dead.
And now they are – in the form of tundra tourism. The hundreds of travelers who make the journey to Churchill every year contribute directly to the polar bear’s survival. Hotels are booked, restaurants are full, and locals become guides, rover drivers, and cultural storytellers – these bears mean business.
So back to that night, walking back to the hotel through the streets of Churchill…
My perceived risk was much greater than the actual risk, thanks to solid conservation efforts run by the local community (if you’re wondering, there was no showdown in the streets – all of the action took place on the tundra).
In many instances, as a traveler, you’re often left wondering what you can actually do to support conservation. In this case, the answer is to just go – and contribute to the local tourism industry. By just visiting the polar bears of Churchill with Nat Hab and WWF, you’re actually enabling them to help fund the bear flights back to the tundra.
As travelers, and as a global community, we have to wake up to the effect of climate change – and put actions into place to fight it, on both a personal and a societal level. You may not see its effects in your backyard, but a trip up to Churchill will put our collective negligence and ignorance into sharp perspective.
When it comes to polar bears, these conservation travel efforts are the only way to ensure that they live on – and then travelers can go back to worrying about pickpockets.
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I did not see polar bears in Churchhill, but did see them — from a safe distance!— in Barrow, Alaska. Worth seeing! Magnificent creatures who are SO endangered by global warming.