Thursday, October 27, 2011

2012 Buffalo Zoo Calendar Now Available!

Buffalo, NY–The Women’s Board of the Buffalo Zoo is pleased to present the 2012 Buffalo Zoo Calendar!

Showcasing some of the Zoo’s animal residents, this beautiful calendar features photos obtained from the Zoo’s annual photo contest. The calendar will also highlight Zoo events, as well as fun facts about the animal pictured each month.

Calendars are available for $10.00 each and may be purchased in person at the Zootique gift shop or by calling (716) 995-6131 to place an order. For all mail orders, please add $2.50 for postage and handling.

Enjoy the Buffalo Zoo all year through—get your calendar today!

The Buffalo Zoo would like to thank our generous calendar sponsors listed below. Calendars are also available for purchase at each of our sponsor locations. 

Bob & John's                                        836-5411    1545 Hertel Ave.        Buffalo NY 14216
CafĂ© Allegro                                          874-3321    1633 Hertel Ave.        Buffalo NY 14216
Eaton Chocolate, LLC                          381-8660    1860 Hertel Ave.        Buffalo  NY 14216
Hewitt International Auto, Inc.           836-8383    1585 Hertel Ave.        Buffalo NY 14216
Johnny's Meats                                     876-2500    1191 Hertel Ave.        Buffalo  NY 14216
Markheim Pets                                       832-2004    3311 Sheridan Dr.      Amherst NY 14226
Michael Donnelly Interior Design       308-6520    1390 Hertel Ave.       Buffalo NY 14216
room                                                         939-2692    1400 Hertel Ave.       Buffalo NY 14216
Talking Leaves                                       884-9524    951 Elmwood Ave.     Buffalo  NY 14222
The Baby Room                                     886-3541    1376 Hertel Ave.        Buffalo NY 14216
The Colvin Market Express                 835-1000    117 Colvin Ave.         Buffalo NY 14216
The Wellington Pub, Inc.                     833-9899    1541Hertel Ave.         Buffalo NY 14216


Get Your Tail to the Buffalo Zoo
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Adult Volunteers Needed – Become a Buffalo Zoo Docent!

A Buffalo Zoo docent is a volunteer teacher and tour guide, who enjoys spreading the Zoo’s message of conservation and education throughout Western New York. Docent training will being on Saturday, January 7, 2012 and continue each Saturday for 13 weeks from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. through April 2012. If you are interested in finding out more information about this unique opportunity, please join us on Saturday, October 22 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m or on Saturday, November 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Please call the Zoo’s Volunteer Coordinator at (716) 995-6132 to reserve your space.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Reflections (Monday, October 17, 2011)

I’ve barely been back in Buffalo, NY for 24 hours. Already, I miss the sounds of the waves rolling along the rocky shores of the Hudson Bay, the Arctic winds blowing across my face and the delight of catching glimpses of some of the most uniquely beautiful wildlife species I have ever seen. 

I have been asked about my experiences, and for the most part, I’ve received positive reactions. I have also already heard someone say he doesn’t know what good it will be to reduce his carbon footprint when it will result in forcing a bear to be held in captivity when it should be in the wild. 

I realize that the length of my postings may have possibly overwhelmed people, especially since all of us have busy lives and can’t always dedicate as much time as we would like to reading about this issue. For what it’s worth, this was just a chance to share what I experienced and what I learned. It gave me the opportunity to further delve into detail about the issues facing the Arctic.  

To make it simple, these are the points that stuck out most to me throughout this experience:

-          It is incorrect to discredit climate change on the basis that there is a random cold snap in a normally warm area. Climate change isn’t measured in rare occurrences. The definition of climate change is that it is an AVERAGE of climate fluctuations that occur over LONG PERIODS OF TIME. (The term “weather” refers to conditions in short periods of time.)

-          The controversy over climate change isn’t really a scientific debate—it has become more of a political issue in recent years in terms of how to address it.

-          The Canadian government is turning to accredited U.S. zoos that meet the required Manitoba Standards for help in saving their polar bears.

-          The natural habitat for polar bears (sea ice) is disappearing or forming late. It is becoming harder for polar bears to have enough time to hunt seals. If they are unable to bulk up enough, the polar bears are not surviving throughout the months during which they’re forced to fast.

-          There are ways that we, as individuals, can help make a difference. Also, by working TOGETHER (instead of against each other), we’ll have a bigger impact.

Here are some simple things that I have either already done or am planning to do to help reduce my carbon footprint:

-          Recycle in any way I can (plastics, glass, reuse items when possible, etc.)
-          Purchase recycled products (to complete the circle and help increase the demand for these products)
-          Purchase local products (food, etc.)
-          Shop with recyclable/reusable totes (instead of acquiring more plastic bags)
-          Purchase Energy Star appliances
-          Install eco-friendly showerheads
-          Use energy efficient lightbulbs such as compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs)
-          No idling in cars, trucks, etc.
-          Wash laundry in cold water
-          Adjust my thermostat accordingly to the season—when possible, I won’t blast the air conditioner in the summer or the heat in the winter
-          Unplug electronics not in use—this includes unplugging my cell phone cord from the wall when my phone isn’t charging

I will do my best to help share these ideas with others, and I will be sure to continue to add more actions to my list. This is just a start! Please be sure to continue to visit the Buffalo Zoo to see what we’re doing to be more eco-friendly. We’re continuing to build on our efforts as we move forward, too!

From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you for reading my postings. While I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I stated, I hope this at least serves as a new beginning for ALL of us. I learned so much from this experience, and you know what? I still have a long way to go. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution. I view our earth as a precious gift, and I’m only trying my best as an individual to do what I can to help make a difference. 

I hope you will join me in some of these actions, and I certainly encourage you to come up with your own ideas that may better suit you and your family. 

On behalf of my fellow Arctic Ambassadors, we thank you for your support!

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Days 6 & 7

Days 6 and 7 (Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16, 2011)
Yes, that’s right—I’m combining two days of daily postings...and that’s because most of us received one extra day in Canada! Unfortunately, the circumstances that enabled this to happen weren’t really that fun. We were scheduled to fly from Churchill to Winnipeg on Friday. However, flights were cancelled due to the dense fog in the area. Because we were unable to make it to Winnipeg Friday night, most of us missed our flights home on Saturday. I have to admit, though, that this was a mixed blessing because of what we got to experience instead!

Before we were scheduled to depart for the Churchill airport on Friday, PBI had arranged for us to have some time in the town of Churchill itself. We started at Parks Canada Visitor Centre, which taught us more about the area’s archaeological and natural history. We were also able to view some artifacts from the Hudson Bay Trading Company, as well as from some of the First Nations. Afterward, we were permitted to do a little shopping. It was a great chance to talk to some of the locals and see some of the artwork that was created in the area. I was also fascinated by the Eskimo Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of Inuit carvings. 

While we walked through town, we also made sure we stopped at the large complex that houses an indoor playground, gymnasium, ice rink, pool, school, library, movie theatre and a couple of restaurants. It was amazing to see how much was actually contained inside the complex, which was designed to be a huge community center that provided a place for people to gather. The complex serves its purpose—it offers relief from the cold winters…and helps to keep people safe from polar bears!

We made our way to the airport and then waited for a few hours. There was a glimmer of hope that we would be able to depart to Winnipeg because our plane had already arrived. However, we needed a full flight crew in order to depart. The flight attendant who was scheduled to be on our plane was on a flight that ended up being diverted because they couldn’t land in Churchill. We were going to spend the night!
I have to give PBI all the credit in the world for scrambling to find places for 25 people to stay. Because of PBI’s great reputation in the area, some people were willing to offer up places for us to stay. PBI also recently purchased a home, but work was still being completed on it. Instead, the teens stayed with their chaperones in one home and had a big slumber party! PBI staff members called all over town for hotel rooms for the adults. Most rooms were booked since other groups visiting Churchill weren’t able to catch their flights either. However, the found a few available rooms, and all of us divided up in teams to go stay in the hotels around town. You know what this meant, of course—we got to take showers!!!  I feel asleep pretty quickly after that!

Everything about our trip suddenly began coming around full circle. At 5:30 a.m., my fellow Arctic Ambassadors heard cracker shots and a horn honking. Officer Bob Windsor was on duty, and he was chasing a polar bear out of town. The Polar Alert System was in place…and it worked. (Unfortunately, yours truly was out cold during all of the excitement.) 

We made it to the airport and boarded our flight to Winnipeg where some of us would have to stay overnight since we missed our early morning flights home. Of course, nothing was going to keep us down after the amazing experience we just had in Churchill! We ended up going to the Assiniboine Park Zoo…and once again saw how things we learned during our PBI Leadership Camp were coming together.

It is the Assiniboine Park Zoo that is currently constructing the Journey to Churchill habitat. This exhibit also includes the $6 million International Polar Bear Conservation Centre that will provide opportunities for academic research on the Arctic environment and polar bear conservation. Public education programs will also be offered. Of even more significance to the Arctic Ambassadors…this will serve as the polar bear rescue and relocation network for orphaned or injured animals. Opening in 2013, this is the facility from which accredited U.S. zoos that meet the required Manitoba Standards will receive their bears. When one stops to think about why it has to be constructed in the first place, it was a little sad to see. However, it was also exciting to see that construction of the facility is underway because it is already serving as a symbol of the conservation efforts being made.

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Day 5

Day 5 (Thursday, October 13, 2011)

Today was our last full day on the Tundra Buggy®.  We’re filled with mixed emotions—we’re excited to go home (and to finally take a shower!), but we’re also sad to leave our new friends (the human ones AND the two polar bears we have affectionately dubbed Chomp and Sniff, who hang out by our Lodge).

The day was packed full with invaluable discussions. We heard from several PBI staff members, who provided us with an overview of PBI, including their mission, goals, resources, information about additional projects they’re working on to further benefit polar bear populations and their expectations of us as we “graduate” from this program. I continue to be blown away each time I receive more information about how PBI has grown as a conservation organization. Considering how much work they do, it’s surprising that so much is accomplished by their small staff of approximately 10 employees. However, it’s also a great reminder just how much can be done by only a handful of people who are committed to helping the environment!

Our discussions took place with Krista Wright, PBI’s Chief Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations; Jane Kudrna Arnold, PBI’s Online Store Manager; and Barbara Nielsen, PBI’s Director of Communications. All of us know it won’t be an easy task to spread the message about climate change. It’s so nice (and comforting) to know that we won’t be alone in our endeavors. My fellow Camp participants and I will help support each other, of course, but we also have PBI staff in our corner. They’re committed to helping us by publicizing our events, providing us with educational tools and materials like bookmarks and mini-posters, as well as giving us access to PBI video from their Film and Media Library to help enhance our message. We were also excited to learn that PBI has developed a Polar Bear Cam, which will be launched next week. People will be able to observe Churchill’s polar bears from their computers!

PBI is also involved in a variety of other field projects. BJ Kirschhoffer, PBI’s Director of Field Operations, spoke to us about his involvement in ongoing polar bear research on Alaska’s North Slope. Prudhoe Bay is not only important to oil and gas companies, but it is also favored among polar bears. It has become one of the species’ largest maternal denning sites in the U.S.  BJ helps scientists locate and study maternal dens using thermal imaging technology with infrared cameras. He showed us a great video his group happened to take while flying over a den in a helicopter at night. A female polar bear was in the process of digging her den in the snow, and the camera picked up her movement. (Only her head was sticking out of the den, but we could make it out perfectly—especially her ears and nose!)  The group has also worked with keepers at the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego, who were able to study their bears to help detect the range of polar bear hearing. This fascinating research has been combined with scientists’ research in the Alaskan polar bear population to determine the possible effects that human actions (especially oil drilling) will have on denning sites. The oil companies have also been supportive of this research and have donated their helicopters and planes to help reduce costs of these studies.  

During the afternoon, we held our webinar—our first real “test” at spreading the message of climate change. Each of us had a topic to cover, including why polar bears congregate in Churchill, what efforts are being made to help keep residents and polar bears safe, why polar bear populations are declining and what we can do to help secure their future. To give our webinar attendees a better understanding of Churchill itself, I provided some history of the area, including information about the people who have inhabited it over the years. We also took time to answer some questions that were emailed to us by those watching our webcast. Overall, it seemed to be a success!

After the webinar, we had a chance to Skype with Robert Buchanan, PBI’s President and CEO, and his wife, Carolyn, Secretary of PBI. Both commended us for our hard work and provided pep talks to help keep us motivated. 

One of my fellow Camp participants asked Robert what message is the hardest for him to get across to the public. In the entire topic of climate change, he said the most challenging point to make is that the polar bear is North America’s iconic species. When he travels to Europe, people have asked him on numerous occasions why Americans don’t seem to care as much about polar bears. Robert pointed out to us that since North America is home to 77% of the world’s polar bears, this species is our continent’s tiger, lion or elephant…all species of which are iconic to other parts of the world. The polar bear itself is an environmental indicator of things happening now…and events to come. Climate change isn’t confined to just the Arctic. It not only affects animals but also humans in many parts of the globe. There are a variety of ways that climate change will continue to show its effects, including rising ocean levels (and subsequent flooding), disease and possible conflicts over controlling natural resources.

While I understand how the controversy over the issue of climate change tends to focus more on HOW to handle the situation, I am discouraged by so much finger-pointing--that someone else should be making more of an effort; that polar bears should learn to adapt to land; that the bears shouldn’t be confined to captivity through the Canadian government’s placement of orphan cubs in U.S. zoos; that if polar bears become extinct, it’s the way it has to go in order for Man to survive; that government officials should be the ones left to handle it, etc. Is it even still possible for people to at least agree that we should somehow replenish what we’re taking from our earth before it’s too late? I happen to think that most people already believe that. At times, this still seems like an overwhelming issue. Scientists are still researching what possible outcomes may result from reducing our carbon footprint. In the meantime, however, why SHOULDN’T we be more mindful of recycling (and purchasing recycled products to complete that cycle), using more energy efficient lightbulbs or even lowering the temperature in our homes during winter by a couple of degrees? These actions help the environment AND help us to save money in the longrun.

It was during this Skype session with Robert that I experienced a somewhat embarrassing moment (for me). After answering some questions, he asked if anyone else had anything to ask. I raised my hand and said that while I didn’t have a question, I just wanted to take the time to thank him for providing us all with the amazing opportunity to experience Churchill. It was then that a wave of emotion hit me. In the middle of my sentence, my voice cracked and I couldn’t go on.  I lowered my eyes, feeling rather silly as the tears freely flowed down my face. I felt the reassuring pat on my knee from Tajah (from the Philadelphia Zoo), and looked up in time to find at least four other communicators brushing tears away from their own faces. I realized at that moment I shouldn’t be embarrassed. We had truly gotten the message—and it was the whole point of us coming to Churchill. So many poignant moments from the trip started flashing before me, including the beauty of the tundra, visions of one of the skinnier bears, and the sound of Dr. Amstrup and Bill Watkins’ voices as they said scientists and the Canadian government are turning to zoos and individuals like us for help.  Robert just smiled and said he, too, knew this whole experience was emotional. It was a knowing smile—he’s experienced this emotion, too. During his visit to the Buffalo Zoo earlier this year, he said there’s nothing like making eye contact with your first polar bear in Churchill. He warned me to be prepared for when that polar bear stares into my eyes because my soul will be touched forever. To anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand, it may sound a little cheesy. You know what, though? He was absolutely right. 

After dinner, we had our “graduation.” We have officially become Arctic Ambassadors! I’m still a bit exhausted from such an emotional day, but I’m also feeling quite invigorated. I’m aware of the challenges that face us, but I’m also eager to start planning ways that I, personally, can help polar bears…and how I can work with all of you so, together, we can experience the rewarding results of knowing we’re protecting our planet!
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Day 4

Day 4 (Wednesday, October 12, 2011)
Today, we took the Tundra Buggy® out for a work day. We’re gearing up for our webinar tomorrow (Thursday, October 13), which will be held at 1:00 p.m. CDT. During the webinar, we will talk about what we’ve learned as well as our experience at the Tundra Lodge.

Riding on the Tundra Buggy® and staying at the Lodge is an adventure in its own right! Tundra Buggy Adventures® is owned and operated by Frontiers North Adventures. The Tundra Buggy® itself is able to be driven across the tundra on roads that were constructed during the 1940s by members of the U.S. and Canadian militaries.  There was military presence here during World War II and through the Cold War as military personnel practiced Arctic maneuvers. The roads aren’t exactly what we would consider to be “roads”—they are often obstructed by large rocks and water. The Tundra Buggy® reminds me of a spacious school bus that is set on HUGE wheels, which lifts the body of the vehicle almost 12 feet off the ground. It keeps us safe from the reach of the polar bears and also helps us to travel across the rugged terrain. Today, each of us got to have a turn driving the Tundra Buggy®. It’s definitely harder than it looks!

The Tundra Buggy® also transports us to the Tundra Buggy Lodge, which is comprised of specialized modules that link together (stretching a total of approximately 328 feet). The Lodge consists of two sleeper cars (which each has 18-20 bunk beds), the lounge, dining and utility car. Despite close quarters, the beds are quite comfortable. Curtains surround each bed, and we all have our own light, window and small mirror. I have written most of my blogs from my bunk as I occasionally stop to scan the area for polar bears and the Northern Lights (though so far, I have been unsuccessful with the latter because it has been too cloudy).

The food is great and is prepared daily by some of the PBI employees and volunteers. We each take turns at cleaning. Last night, I replaced towels in the bathrooms and this morning, I was on kitchen duty. (I helped wash dishes after breakfast.) I should also mention that in order to be more “green,” we have joined our previous Camp participants in the “No Shower Challenge.” We aren’t really telling people that in order to be green, they can’t practice personal hygiene. However, the water has to be driven out to the Tundra Buggy® for our use.  Because we are limited in terms of water supply, we decided to save the time, effort and gas for that water to be transported to us. I have to admit that the challenge really hasn’t been that difficult. All of the Camp attendees (in BOTH the teen and communicator camps! )this year happen to all be females. We’re doing well with the challenge, though almost all of us have either pulled our hair back into ponytails or are wearing hats. Of course, this is also due in part to the strong Arctic winds!

It is truly a pleasure to stay at the Lodge and experience the Tundra Buggy®. Last night, we were joined by John Gunter, the General Manager of Frontiers North. The company is a platinum sponsor of PBI and without their support, we would not have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I was thoroughly impressed with the management and operation of this company. John Gunter was born and raised in Churchill, and his family has helped to put Churchill on the world map for tourism in order to help raise awareness about this unique area. 

Frontiers North is also constantly coming up with ways to be greener. The hydraulic fluid they use in their vehicles is biodegradable. If there is ever a leak, it will have a negligible impact on the surrounding environment. The company has also undergone an energy audit and is now using cleaner burning engines.

Frontiers North has also been instrumental in contributing to a new recycling program in Churchill. Since there are no roads to Churchill, it is difficult to transfer recyclables somewhere else. Instead, Frontiers North works with the charter flights that come into Churchill. Planes that are already traveling south are now taking recyclables and are not charging for the service. Waste Management has also gotten involved and uses the recyclables for roads and other products. They, too, do not charge for this service. By simply working together and incorporating practices that were already in use, it has been a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The purpose of this Leadership Camp is to give us a better understanding of what is occurring in the polar bears’ habitat as well as take this knowledge and turn it into a forward action plan. Seeing a company use existing tools (roads, transportation, etc.) and having an impact on so many visitors certainly helps us provide a model for how we, too, can implement change. 

Today, Nichols School in Buffalo, NY will be one of the groups participating in our webinar tomorrow. Earlier this year, the Buffalo Zoo and PBI awarded Nichols School with the Paw of Approval Award for their green practices. I hope that these young bright students, along with other groups will be joining us in this webinar, will get a sense of what we are experiencing in Churchill and how it will take all of us to make changes in order to make a positive impact on climate change.

I’ve learned many things during this conference, but something stood out today during one of our group discussions. Even as individuals, we don’t have to do EVERYTHING—we just have to do SOMETHING. 

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Day 3

Day 3 (Tuesday, October 11, 2011)

Wow, what a day! My mind is whirling…but all for good reasons.

After one of our facilitators woke us up with a rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!,” we walked to the lounge car for breakfast. The song choice was a little misleading, as we soon found out that we had to hold each door tightly while entering and exiting the cars so the doors wouldn’t be blown out of our grip! Today’s weather is certainly different with the rain, strong wind (unlike anything I’ve ever experienced!) and bitter cold. While the weather is uncomfortable for us, the polar bears certainly don’t seem to mind it that much, of course.

After breakfast, we sat down for a Skype session with Dr. Steven Amstrup, PBI’s chief scientist, who has studied polar bears for more than 30 years. In recent years, he has provided research for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who in 2007 asked him to answer the question, “What is the future of polar bears?” Subsequently, Dr. Amstrup worked with a team of international scientists and together, they provided enough data to result in polar bears being added to the threatened species list in 2008. The scientists also collected enough information to predict that the world will lose 2/3 of its polar bear population in the next 40 years if we stay on our current path and don’t make any changes in reducing greenhouse gases. IUCN?

Today’s discussions were particularly interesting to me because of the controversy surrounding climate change. The notion of climate change occurring isn’t something new—in fact, it’s been understood for more than 100 years since the concept was introduced by the mathematician, Joseph Fourier. Only recently has the topic become a controversy—not so much a scientific one but rather a political debate. While the majority of scientists (whose life work involves studying the topic) believe that climate change is increasing because humans are producing more greenhouse gases, for a variety of reasons, some people feel they cannot do anything to prevent climate change from occurring…or that their actions even cause it at all.

What I appreciated most about Dr. Amstrup was the fact that he put scientific terms into layman terms to help clarify the data. He specifically cited the example of people not accepting the idea of climate change (global warming) if there is a cold spell in a place like Arizona. However, he explained that climate change is actually an AVERAGE of fluctuations in climate over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME (not just a rare occurrence once in a while). For thousands of years, weather has fluctuated as a result of many factors—changes in the North Atlantic Drift, El Nino, volcanoes erupting, etc.  However, the baseline of recorded temperatures over long periods of time has shown a steady increase. (More specifically, in the last 25 years, most surface air temperatures around the world have risen.)

What has also increased is the amount of greenhouse gases produced by humans. Now, it is important to note that greenhouse gases THEMSELVES are important…and necessary to sustain life on Earth. In technical terms, the sun provides the earth with shortwave radiation that the earth sends back to space as longterm waves. This balance has to be maintained. Carbon dioxide takes the solar energy and “bounces” it around to other things on earth that need it first—plants, etc. If people are increasing the amount of CO2 (which retains solar energy), then the longer the solar energy is “trapped.” This results in rising temperatures. Dr. Amstrup pointed out that the Laws of Physics state that as the amount of greenhouse gases rise, the world will warm. It is so scientifically evidenced that Dr. Amstrup stated that if anyone argues these Laws of Physics, he always asks them if they think people can fly in airplanes!

Scientific data shows that without greenhouse gases, the natural curve of climate shows we would be headed into another Ice Age. The best example he gave to bring all of this together was comparing greenhouse gases to a blanket. If we get too warm under the covers in bed at night, we take off our blanket to cool down. Greenhouse gases act as a regulator (like a blanket). They can help us stay warm, but if we are covered with too many blankets, there’s nowhere for the heat to escape. It is slowly released from the blanket itself…but usually not quick enough for us to maintain a comfortable temperature without becoming overheated first. Therefore, the extra layer of greenhouse gases that humans are producing are trapping in heat and causing temperatures to rise around the globe.

In 2009, more climate change reports released by Dr. Amstrup about the results of climate change resulted in a “doom and gloom” mentality among those who analyzed the findings. If the existing amount of greenhouse emissions have committed us to losing all seasonal sea ice in the future (as found in Churchill), would future greenhouse gas mitigation have ANY benefit to polar bears, who rely on this ice for hunting (and ultimate survival)? Scientists’ answer is a resounding YES.

Since polar bears have adapted well to live in harsh environments, some people believe they will adapt to a more terrestrial lifestyle and feed off berries and kelp rather than their main diet of ringed seals. Polar bears have been fasting during the summer months while the sea ice retreats since as long as, well…they have been polar bears. However, as mentioned in my previous postings, they need the ice to form by a certain time of year so they can begin bulking up to survive the winter and for females to be able to take care of her cubs (and herself). The fat (blubber) they consume from seals contains the nutrients to enable them to do this…berries do not. Many people understand that populations of giant pandas are declining due to habitat loss and the fact that they have a specialized diet of bamboo. The same thing is true of polar bears. They, too, are experiencing habitat loss (in terms of the melting sea ice) and they have a specialized diet of ringed seals. We don’t expect pandas to change…and we need to accept that polar bears won’t either. While pandas have become an icon for endangered species, polar bears serve as an environmental indicator on our own continent, showing us that climate change is occurring and that we need to address it quickly. By reducing our greenhouse levels, we can have an impact on preventing future habitat loss for polar bears.

Dr. Amstrup pointed out that if we look into governments on all levels (including city, county, state, federal), we’ll find that many government bodies are providing services to mitigate greenhouse gases. Some offer energy audits and others are introducing new programs to revise recycling practices, etc. However, many people are still unaware of these efforts even in their own communities. Governments are starting to realize that while previous arguments over the fact that green programs might be too costly, when compared to having to relocate thousands of people from Florida when the ocean begins to cover the land, it is best to take preventative measures now.

Dr. Amstrup reminded us to learn the difference between a physical possibility and political plausibility. He stressed that in no way are scientists trying to prevent businesses from operating successfully, which is what some people argue. In fact, he is a strong supporter of technology and believes we have the technology already available (or at least at our fingertips) to use some alternative sources like wind power and solar energy. These can be used to create new businesses, make current ones “greener” and even create more jobs. Regardless of political beliefs, however, 1,200 scientists who have joined together as a part of the International Panel for Climate Change, have the data to show climate change is occurring and that it is already affecting all of us. Moreover, it will continue to do so at a more rapid rate unless we start making individual changes and get involved in encouraging political leaders to support climate change legislation.

After we finished the discussion with Dr. Amstrup, we noticed that a female polar bear had made her way to our Tundra Buggy to get a closer look. After a while, she wandered into the willow shrubs to lie down. Dr. Amstrup’s points really hit home as I continued to observe her. While the Hudson Bay isn’t normally completely frozen by this time of year, it still shouldn’t take much longer. Of course, sea ice formation in this area is now being delayed. I watched her begin to eat long clumps of grass as she was lying next to the Bay…which contains her ringed seals that, in water, are too fast for her to catch. Following the body index card that we use to help us gauge whether a polar bear is healthy (1 is the unhealthiest while 5 is the healthiest), she appeared to be a 3…an average weight. This isn’t uncommon this time of year since she has fasted for the summer. She still has a couple of months to go, and if she has cubs, she will go almost 8 months without eating…and she will still have to provide milk to her young. So far, it seems she’s doing all right. I hope that a delay in sea ice formation doesn’t change this outcome.

After an afternoon spent driving in the Tundra Buggy (and observing four more polar bears!), we later had another Skype session—this time with Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological science at the University of Alberta. While he focused more on the biology of the polar bear and the differences in the bears contained in the 19 polar bear populations, he provided great insight into how NOT to feel too overwhelmed in dealing with the problem of climate change. He described the excess greenhouse gases as “pollutants.” The world has already addressed similar concerns, including acid rain. We have even outlawed certain chemicals. Reducing CO2 levels can be dealt with in similar ways

While I realize this posting is rather long and perhaps even difficult to follow, I feel it is important to address some of these points because this is why we’re all here in Churchill this week. Working at an accredited zoo, we are not in the business to exhibit polar bears for visitors to come look at for a couple of minutes and then move on the next animal. The point is to help people understand the dangers these animals face in the wild. We’re not only dedicated to caring for the animals at the zoo, but we’re also committed to helping their wild relatives.
The Arctic Ambassador Center zoos that are designing new polar bear exhibits (like the Buffalo Zoo) are following new regulations called Manitoba Standards. The beginning of these Standards goes back to the Polar Bear Alert Program. Problem bears were coming into the town of Churchill to raid the dump sites. The female bears were even training cubs to come to these areas. Wildlife officials had to decide--it was either shoot these animals (including the cubs who have learned the “bad” behaviors)…or start sending them to zoos.  When this first started occurring years ago, there weren’t many as many strict regulations set in regard to the bears. While some stayed at accredited zoos, others ended up at other facilities and had to be recovered and sent again to a different accredited facility. Now, however, Manitoba Conservation has revised its policies and formally introduced standards that ANY accredited zoo MUST meet in order to even be considered to house a polar bear from Manitoba. These Standards were formed by a large group consisting of people like field biologists, the federal Canadian government, Zoocheck Canada and others. Manitoba Standards require certain exhibit and holding size minimums along with salt water pools, enrichment, and management practices.

One thing is very clear. The Canadian government is asking for help in maintaining their polar bear population in Manitoba, and they are turning to accredited zoos that meet the appropriate Manitoba Standards for this help. Like pandas, who remain the property of China even when they reside in American zoos, the polar bears will remain the property of Canada. If standards aren’t met, the polar bears will not reside at these accredited zoos. 

The Buffalo Zoo is proud that its upcoming Arctic Edge polar bear habitat will be designed according to Manitoba Standards and that we will be playing an even more direct role in the conservation of this species. 

Most importantly, there are simple things that all of us as INDIVIDUALS can do to help reduce CO2 and also contribute to the survival of this magnificent animal.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 2 (Monday, October 10, 2011)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian friends!!!

We truly had a lot to be thankful for today!

We gathered in the lobby bright and early to catch our Calm Air flight to Churchill. People mentioned to me that we would be flying in a tiny turboprop plane, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had more leg room on this flight than the ones I took to Canada!

Of course, nothing could beat the view. As we flew closer to Churchill, we began to see the differences in the area’s topography. We flew over boreal forests only to be later met with the sight of hundreds of small ponds (formed by permafrost) that were surrounded by the Churchill River and the Hudson Bay.

It was a beautiful day—there was plenty of sunshine and temperatures were in the upper 40s. It’s windy and humid here, however, which results in a cold chill hanging in the air. At the airport, we were greeted by more PBI employees, who immediately gave us our blue Arctic Ambassador parkas…generously on loan from the Canada Goose company. We were finally ready to travel into the tundra!

Highlights of the day included a delicious lunch at the Tundra Inn (where employees came into work on their holiday just for us!), learning about the history of the Prince of Wales Fort (which was constructed in 1731 by the English to protect their fur trade), visiting the Polar Bear Holding Facility (D20 as it is called in old Army inventory sheets), and of course, finally boarding the Tundra Buggy!

Like me, you may have wondered what life in Churchill is like for its 850 (human) residents. How do people live in an area inhabited by polar bears?

Bob Windsor, a conservation officer for Manitoba Conservation, answered a lot of these questions at the Polar Bear Holding Facility. He is the manager of the area’s polar bear alert program, which was developed in the late 1970s. This program was designed with the following in mind: 1. the safety of the community’s human residents; 2. the safety of the bears; 3. preventing the bears from becoming conditioned to people; and 4. the safety of the conservation officers.

To prevent the bears from becoming conditioned to people, we were not allowed inside the facility. Officer Windsor informed us that just this morning, a sow and her cub were brought to the facility after being trapped just in front of the building. This time of year, traps are set out around the town to help keep bears from entering populated areas. Many methods are used to prevent human-animal conflict, including trapping, scare tactics (shooting screamers or cracker shells) and darting for relocation purposes. Bears are not kept in the holding facility longer than 30 days; mothers with cubs will only be in the facility for a few days. This is the time of year that polar bears migrate through the area as they wait for the ice to form on the Hudson Bay. Once the ice is formed, they are generally hunting and do not come into town as often. The purpose of holding bears during this time of year is to prevent them from becoming repeat “offenders” in the town. They are released close to the time of the formation of ice so they can continue their mission of making their way out into the Bay…and not to someone’s garbage. If bears are spotted in the area, residents are advised to call 675-BEAR to report its whereabouts.

Halloween is the most publicized night of the year for residents of Churchill. Approximately 12-13 units (made up of conservation officers, EMTS, firefighters, etc.) come together to help patrol the area for polar bears as children go trick-or-treating. A helicopter usually patrols the area for 30 minutes to scare bears away, and then other units are out on duty during the festivities. To date, no polar bears have been spotted on Halloween evening, though Officer Windsor said he did receive a call at midnight and 2:00 a.m. the next day. Therefore, the units’ efforts are necessary as there is always the potential threat that a polar bear can be waiting for someone just around the corner.

After we bid farewell to Officer Windsor, we made our way to the Tundra Buggy loading point. It was going to be a 1.5-hour ride to our Lodge, traveling 5-10 miles per hour over rough terrain.

What an AMAZING time we had as we bounced along, talked more about what we have learned and stopped to take photos of the beautiful scenery around us. In addition to a variety of birds (including snow buntings, lesser yellow legs, ptarmigans and tundra swans), we also saw a silver fox and…drumroll please…THREE polar bears!!!!

Let me just say that spotting a polar bear in an area surrounded by white rocks is NOT an easy task!

While it’s hard to judge the condition of a bear from a distance (especially when it is lying down), the bears seemed to look rather healthy. The last two bears we saw (who both appeared to be male) were even in very close proximity to our Tundra Buggy Lodge!

That first polar bear’s image, however, is still stuck in my mind. No one is exactly sure if the bear was a female or young male. Regardless, it is this bear that, for me, has set the stage for the rest of this trip. While the polar bear is known to be the area’s top predator, seeing this majestic animal sitting on the bare rocks hit home with me as I also recalled Bill Watkins’ earlier comments. The first snowfall should have already occurred. These polar bears have gone months without food --fasting during the summer months while there is no ice from which to hunt. Thirty years ago, polar bears were eating three weeks earlier in the fall because ice would already be taking over the Hudson Bay. Each delayed week amounts to 10 kg (or 22 pounds) of weight that the polar bear should be gaining. Therefore, if they are delayed three weeks, that amounts to approximately 66 pounds that they used to gain by this time of year. Instead, bears are getting skinner, and as a result, females sometimes aren’t able to sustain their cubs.

Through one glance, this beautiful bear put so much into perspective for me. More than ever, I’m ready to start making some changes to help secure this animal’s future.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us tomorrow!

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Day 1

Hi, everyone! I just want to thank you for your interest in reading my daily postings. I am so excited to be a part of Polar Bears International’s (PBI) Communicator Leadership Conference in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, and I am pleased that you are joining me in learning more about polar bear conservation!

A lot went into preparing for this trip. While this experience is designed to be fun of course, it’s certainly not a vacation. Camp will require hard work.

Before I even left Buffalo, I completed five reading assignments covering the biology, management and conservation of polar bears, as well as global issue of climate change. Compiled by a number of leading scientists in the field of conservation, these readings and scientific findings made one thing very clear: The longer we wait to address the issue of climate change, the more irreversible the damage will be…and it will affect ALL of us.

I invite you to continue following my daily postings so together we can all learn what we can do to address the very important issue of climate change and how we can ultimately help polar bears.

Day 1 (Sunday, October 9, 2011)

For almost nine months, I’ve been counting down the days until the start of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…and now that day has finally arrived!

Today, I took a flight from Buffalo to Chicago and then another one to Winnipeg. The total flying time was just a little more than three hours—not bad! Once I arrived in Winnipeg, I checked into the Four Points Sheraton, where we will all be staying for our first night. I met up with my roommate, Marla, who works at the Alaska Zoo. I really can’t complain about being tired from traveling considering she has been traveling since last night!

All of us met up for dinner during which we had our “icebreaker.” We were each assigned another Camp participant to interview and then introduce to the group. As I listened to the introductions, I was very impressed with the variety of backgrounds that make up our group. I think we will all have something to add to the mix and that we’ll be able to make great strides as a result!

We also ate with the participants who will be experiencing the teen camp. After talking to the teens, I’m even more inspired! Some have already started implementing plans to reduce CO2 in their communities and are looking for ways to do even more to help reduce their carbon footprint.

The evening drew to a close after we received an overview of the history and topography of Churchill and what to expect this week while we are there. In addition to all of the group discussions and lectures, we are going to each take turns cleaning inside the Tundra Buggy and helping with some meals—yep, it’s all a part of the experience!

What stuck out to me, however, was when Bill Watkins, a biodiversity conservation zoologist with Manitoba Conservation, talked to us about Churchill itself. He touched on town’s history and culture and even cautioned us to be vigilant since polar bears can sometimes come into the town to look for food. He described Churchill—the Polar Bear Capital of the World--as a place unlike any other. This town, which is accessible only by rail or plane, is one that is full of history (both culturally and geologically). Moreover, the locals witness climate change firsthand and recognize that something needs to be done quickly.

Sadly, there are no signs of snow yet, though the first snowfall should have already occurred this time of year. The weather report shows that temperatures will be in the low 40s for most of the week. A couple of weeks ago, Bill said they experienced record highs in the upper 80s. These certainly aren’t ideal conditions for polar bears, who are waiting for ice to form so they resume hunting for seals after months of fasting on shore.

I am intrigued by the descriptions of Churchill—a unique place that Bill himself stated will have an emotional impact on all of us.

At 5:30 a.m., we will meet in the lobby and walk across the street to the Winnipeg airport. There, we will board our two-hour flight to Churchill and finally experience this amazing place that we’ve heard so much about. Our adventure is about to begin!

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