Scavenging Polar Bears In Nunavut

Bear Hunting Magazine

Residents in Arviat, Nunavut, say they want the territorial government to step in with a better solution to the high number of polar bears roaming the community and scavenging in backyards.

People in the western Hudson Bay hamlet have started a nightly bear patrol since the polar bears started coming in two weeks ago. Some in the community of 2,000, however, say the Nunavut government should help out and follow the lead of neighbouring Manitoba, which has the Polar Bear Alert program in the northern town of Churchill.

Under the program, which is run by Manitoba's Conservation Department, polar bears that come too close to Churchill are immobilized, confined, then flown to an area northwest of the community, or released onto Hudson Bay once the sea ice freezes.

"There should be money available to do that, to get helicopters and bring them out into the sea ice or something," Arviat resident Joseph Aggaak stated.

In the past two weeks, Arviat's polar bear patrol has tried to scare away the bears with bear bangers and other non-violent deterrents, but the bears keep coming back.

Arviat conservation officer Joe Savikataaq said the Nunavut government has no plans to adopt the Polar Bear Alert program. "I can't say whether it would be practical for here or not. This could just be an exceptional, different year and maybe next year it won't be like this. Or maybe it will be the same, and we don't know yet, but time will tell," Savikataaq said.

"We just have to live through this, and learn from it, and see what we can do differently next year if this system is not working out well."

Savikataaq added that the polar bears should not be hanging around Arviat much longer - the sea ice is nearly frozen, setting up the bears' winter travel route.

"The bears should start going on their migration route now because the weather's been pretty cold for about three days now," he said. "So the sea ice is moving out. That should encourage the bears to move on further north."

Some Arviat residents have even resorted to killing some of the visiting polar bears, even though Nunavut has allotted a quota of only eight polar bears to be hunted this season in the western Hudson Bay area. Half of that quota has been used to date. (This is not included in the quota for Inuit hunters mentioned in a previous article)

Most recently, Arviat resident Airo Pameolik shot a polar bear that was scavenging for food near his garage on Saturday.

"I think anybody feels threatened anytime any animal - never mind a polar bear - is that close," Pameolik said. "There's a bear around and I'm going to try and do something about it. In this case, I decided to shoot it."

Another polar bear was shot in Arviat on Nov. 8. Polar bear hunting quotas in Nunavut's western Hudson Bay region are reduced to just eight bears in the 2008-2009 hunting season - a significant cut from 38 bears last year, and 56 bears the year before.

Hunters in the region have only four more bears they can take. Local wildlife groups agreed not to kill any more polar bears except in emergency cases.

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