Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Trip to the Polar Bear Capitol of the World – Part 1

by Caitlyn Bruce (Keeper at the Buffalo Zoo)

From October 6th to October 13th of this year, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the western Hudson Bay area to Churchill, Manitoba with the Polar Bears International  Leadership Camp. Seeing polar bears in the wild was especially intriguing for me as a polar bear keeper at the Buffalo Zoo, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I was going to have in the sub-arctic. There were 24 participants from a variety of backgrounds including other zoo keepers from across North America, high school teachers, communicators and education department staff from other zoos, and even an agent from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The main function of Leadership Camp was to educate us about global climate change and, more importantly, what we can personally do and how we can educate others on how to reduce their energy consumption.  From when we woke up at 7am until we went to bed at 10pm, we were participating in classes, group discussions, Skype sessions with world renowned climate change scientists, and a variety of other activities. We learned how to be more proficient in communicating how climate change is affecting polar bear populations, and will ultimately lead to their extinction if nothing changes. What we learned and the skills we developed were an important part of camp, but the real excitement was in what we saw while we were there. Everything from the tundra landscape, to the structure of the town of Churchill, to the tundra flora and fauna was fascinating. We spend two days out on tundra in a Tundra Buggy©, which is like a very large, all-terrain school bus with giant wheels. This allowed us a safe vantage point for viewing, while still keeping us incredibly close and engaged with our surroundings.  While we were there, we saw a variety of arctic wildlife including tundra swan, an arctic fox, beluga whales, ptarmigan, and arctic hares, but obviously the most thrilling were the polar bears. We saw a total of five bears (although we believe one was the same bear, seen two different days). 

Polar bear sighting in Churchill, Manitoba

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