Catching the polar bear spotted in the Gaspé on Saturday, a “complex” and “risky” operation according to several local stakeholders, would have been a first in southern Quebec. Meanwhile, authorities in Churchill, Manitoba, manage about 60 reports a year without killing a single bear in 10 years.
Posted at 5:00am
There has never been an attempt to capture a polar bear in the wild in southern Quebec, confirm the only two institutions that keep these animals in captivity in the province, the Saint-Félicien Zoo and the Quebec Aquarium.
Even in a controlled environment, this operation requires a lot of preparation and equipment, explains Catherine Rousseau, curator of the Aquarium de Québec, which houses two specimens. She also states that she has performed fewer than three stuns on these behemoths since taking office in 2010, and only one transport of these beasts.
“What you have to keep in mind is that there is a risk associated with any anesthesia. […] It requires a plan A and a plan B, if the anesthetic is not strong enough,” she emphasizes.
Possible, but feasible?
Catching and then transporting a polar bear in the wild, “we have never seen or participated in an operation like this”, says the director-general of the zoo of Saint-Félicien, Lauraine Gagnon, who the “complex and risky” approach.
“Let’s say they manage to put the bear to sleep with a device that is strong enough. It is necessary to quickly collect all its parameters. If there is one box that we do not check, we cannot perform this operation” , she adds, pointing to the risk of the animal waking up sooner than expected.
Ventilator, intubation equipment, precise amount of sedatives, not to mention the tractor or crushing cage needed to transport a polar bear – whose weight can be three times that of a black bear -, all equipment was unavailable for Wildlife Protection when it intervened on the spot last Saturday.
According to the commander of Quebec’s Southeastern District Conservation Service, Sylvain Marois, who is defending his organization’s decision to shoot the bear, “would have been possible, but would it have been feasible?”
“We are talking about an animal that roams free in a village. The animal was killed about 150 feet from Route 132. If the police aren’t with us to seal the area, a resident may pass, stop his vehicle, get out with his camera. If the bear sees it as a danger, well, we’re talking more about the same thing,” he says.
Living with the polar bear
Meanwhile, however, authorities in Churchill, Manitoba, deal with an average of about 60 reports of polar bears a year with no one killed in 10 years.
Manitoba Conservation Officer Ian Van Nest explains how the program works polar bear warninga 24-hour hotline alerting conservationists to the presence of a polar bear in Churchill.
“Depending on the area the bear is in – if it’s close to town – officers will try to scare it away with alarms or vehicles. For other areas further afield, officers will not approach them unless they pose a risk to public safety. †
Despite these techniques to keep them away, some polar bears still come into town. In this case, they can be stunned or caught with large traps and then transported by helicopter with large nets, explains Ian Van Nest. They are then placed in an isolation building before being released.
Sylvain Marois confirms to have received death threats from internet users who were shocked by the tragic death of the lost animal.
I got messages that I should be hanged loud and clear in the public square.
Sylvain Marois, Commander of the Southeastern District of Quebec Wildlife Protection
He confirms that a retrospective evaluation of the operation with various actors will be made. In the context where events like this will inevitably repeat, according to several experts, establishing an intervention protocol involving large predators should be considered, he said.
“Even in movies, [un ours polaire en Gaspésie], I think that would have been far-fetched. It remains very coincidental, very unusual’, the commander argues.
A situation that is destined to repeat itself
But the arrival of polar bears in the south of the province could become more frequent, according to the director of conservation and education at the Saint-Félicien zoo, Daniel Pagé.
“If you think about climate change, the sea ice is shorter during the year and the bears are dependent on it. Now that their territory is shrinking, it could potentially cause such cases,” he urges.
According to the expert, the most likely hypothesis to explain the presence of this bear in Gaspésie would be that it drifted or walked off the shores of Labrador.
More information user manual
- Number of polar bears in the three subpopulations present in Quebec, namely those of Fox Basin (about 2,300 individuals), southern Hudson Bay (about 800 individuals), and Davis Strait (about 2,250 individuals))
SOURCE: Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks
- From 400 to 600 kg
- Usual weight of an adult male polar bear, although he can weigh up to 800 kg
SOURCE: Canadian Wildlife Federation