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Keeping communities and polar bears safer

 

Clive Tesar is Head of Communications for the Global Arctic Programme, based in Ottawa, Canada. He grew up in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and spent ten years travelling the Canadian Arctic as a reporter, producer and host for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. For ten years prior to joining WWF, he worked around the Arctic as a communications consultant for NGOs, Indigenous peoples’ organisations, and governments. Clive has a Master’s degree in Environmental Education and Communications.

I spoke to him most recently about working with communities and keeping our polar bears safe. Here’s what he had to say.

A fully grown wild polar bear is not a visitor you’d want to entertain. Adult males can be two-and-half metres long, and weigh more than 700 kilograms. But in some parts of the Arctic, polar bears are struggling to find food as sea ice is forming later and melting earlier – and if they miss ‘catching’ the sea ice before it melts, they can get stuck on land.

Polar bear in snowstorm, Norway © naturepl.com / WWF-CanonPolar bear in snowstorm, Norway © naturepl.com / WWF-Canon

This means they also miss out on their high-fat seal diet so may enter towns and villages in search of food. That’s a big concern for the people who share the Arctic coast.

Joe Savikataaq Jr. from the Canadian community of Arviat knows the problem well. His community on the Hudson Bay coast is situated on a point of land that’s like a highway for the bears stuck on shore. The bears not only steal food, but also damage property and can threaten – and sometimes kill – people. Until recently, the only certain way for people to protect themselves was to shoot the bears.

Joe was recently part of a training course part-funded by us to train local people to use polar bear deterrents – and become polar bear guards. Deterrents range from using electric fences and bear-proof food bins, to driving them away with guns that fire bean-bags to scare them away. This helps keep people and bears from coming into conflict.

Polar bears wandering through a Russian community ©Viktor Nikiforov / WWFPolar bears wandering through a Russian community ©Viktor Nikiforov / WWF

“I’d like to thank WWF for putting me on the course, I know it’s a lot of work doing this kind of stuff. I appreciate what everybody’s doing to make people safer and decrease the number of bears shot in defence.”

Now the manual for the training course exists, we’re planning to help adapt it for other communities around the Arctic. This will supplement support we’ve given to help establish polar bear patrols in Russia and Alaska, as well as Canada, and a circumpolar workshop on reducing human-bear conflict.

Despite the short-term growth of sea ice in the past couple of years, the longer term trend (the only one that is significant) is still that the ice is shrinking. This will leave more bears on shore for longer periods for the foreseeable future. It’s a future for which we are trying to prepare, so that both people and bears can weather what the future climate brings.

If you would like to help our work in the Arctic, please donate today at www.arctichome.co.uk and Coca-Cola will match your donation.

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