Adventure tourism proves fatal for two bears

Organizers of Polar Race negotiating compensation for animal killed in self-defence



Nunavut’s department of environment is not particularly alarmed about two polar bears killed by adventure tourists trekking to the magnetic North pole this spring.

“There’s only so much you can do,” said Steve Pinksen, director of policy planning and legislation for the department.

“Our law, and the land claim itself, recognizes that anybody can kill an animal to save their own life.”

On March 16, a two-man team from the Polar Race shot and killed a polar bear when it clawed into their tent some 80 miles northwest of Resolute Bay, organizers said in a press release.

Members from a separate race, the Polar Challenge, were also forced to kill a bear in self-defence.

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Both kills were reported, and in both cases, the hides were delivered to the nearest community. The meat from one bear, however, was spoiled before it could be retrieved.

Pinksen said adventure tourists are responsible for only a small percentage of defence-killed bears.

“The vast majority of defence-killed polar bears are killed by Inuit, and that’s because Inuit spend more time on the land.”

Those numbers, Pinksen said, are not all that high as local hunters are generally more comfortable when dealing with curious bears, and can recognize when a bear is being aggressive and when a bear can be safely scared away.

The bigger concern, according to Pinksen, is the fact that every bear killed in self-defence comes off the nearest community’s quota: in this case, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord.

The racers are not required to compensate the communities, Pinksen said, but he notes that, in the past, people have offered compensation voluntarily.

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Organizers of the Polar Race are negotiating compensation with the hunters and trappers organization in Resolute Bay.

Polar Race organizer Paul Theobald said in an email that all of the racers involved had been trained to deal with bears and to scare them off using rubber bullets or cracker shells, and that the HTO in Resolute Bay is aware of the content of the training.

In this case, however, he said that shooting the bear was the appropriate, if unfortunate, response.

The Polar Race and the Polar Challenge are both British commercial enterprises that offer tourists the opportunity to race to the North Pole. This year, six teams of two to four people entered the Polar Race. The Polar Challenge consisted of 16 teams of three people.

Nunavut’s environment department works with Parks Canada to produce educational material on bear safety and awareness.

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