Written by 6:01 am AI

– **Survival Strategies of Polar Creatures: Shotguns, AI, and Illumination**

As the climate crisis changes habitats across the Artic and drives the animals closer to people, th…

Mike Spence, the head of Churchill, states, “To detect a keep in your area, you can listen to the gunshots. Those are the conservationists’ patrols,” and to discourage them, they utilize a 12 gauge shotgun equipped with a noise-reducing cartridge. The community members are alerted to the presence of a keep in the vicinity through sound.

Churchill, recognized as the polar bear capital of the world, is situated on the western coast of Hudson Bay in the northeastern region of Manitoba, Canada. The shift to using “bangers” instead of live ammunition represents a significant shift in perspective. In the early 1970s, individuals used to capture bears, as noted by Spence. However, he mentions that nowadays, bears are being deterred from the area using shotguns.

In 2019, Spence, with assistance from the Indigenous Cree, played a key role in establishing the polar bear smart working group in the town and sought support from Polar Bear International (PBI) to devise coexistence strategies for Churchill. He notes, “We’ve had a busy summer.” Bears emerge from the ice during July and August at unpredictable times. Between August and October, we recorded 50 to 100 sightings.

The behavior of polar bears is evolving due to the climate crisis, pushing the animals closer to human settlements and reducing their access to sea ice for hunting.

In early 2023, a 24-year-old woman and her young son were fatally attacked by a polar bear while traveling to the remote town of Wales in northern Alaska.

According to Geoff York, the senior conservation director at PBI overseeing the organization’s engagement initiatives, “Polar bear-human conflicts leading to attacks are exceedingly rare.” Fatal incidents are extremely uncommon, and efforts are in place to maintain this status.

Nonetheless, he adds, “The changes unfolding in the Arctic are rapid, surpassing earlier predictions.” These transformations underscore the urgency of developing new strategies for human-bear interactions.

“Education is crucial to prevent bear harm.”

Sam Hunter from the Cree community in Peawanuck recalls, “In my youth, bears would flee upon sighting humans from afar.” Recent behavior shifts indicate that polar bears no longer exhibit this fear.

Hunter, a participant in PBI’s Wapusk Project involving Cree populations in Peawanuck, Moosonee, and Fort Severn, Ontario, highlights concerns about bears damaging property and attempting to enter homes during community gatherings.

Misunderstandings often lead to bears being killed. Hunter emphasizes the need for education, stating, “While firearms and guard dogs are still common deterrents, education on non-lethal bear management is essential. We need to equip people with the necessary knowledge.”

From “burrs on hair” to “bear-salaam”

Advanced technologies are being developed to promote harmonious coexistence between bears and humans in the Arctic. An artificial intelligence early-warning sensor system, dubbed “Bear-dar,” is nearing completion after five years of development under York’s supervision at PBI. York emphasizes the uniqueness of this system, designed to detect wildlife rather than people or stationary objects in the landscape.

Efforts are underway to enhance the system’s accuracy in identifying bears, aiming for a success rate of 70% to 90% in distinguishing bears from other wildlife such as wolves or caribou.

Additionally, PBI has introduced “Burr on Fur” satellite-tracking devices that adhere to bears’ fur, aiding in monitoring their movements to prevent incursions into human settlements. York mentions plans to test barriers for different bear species like brown and black bears to determine their effectiveness in deterring polar bears. Innovative concepts such as sound, strobe lights, scents, electrified mats for unwelcome guests, and non-lethal crowd control tools like rubber tasers and bean bags are being explored.

Moreover, a project is underway to adapt crowd control items for animal use, ensuring their safe and effective application.

Ground patrols have proven effective in Churchill, according to Spence, especially for bears that evade radar detection. Vigilance remains paramount in bear management.

Waste management initiatives, though less technologically advanced than the Bear-dar system, have proven successful in reducing polar bear encounters in Svalbard, Norway. York emphasizes the importance of proper waste disposal to mitigate human-bear conflicts, as food waste attracts bears to urban areas.

The polar bear is classified as a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. While population stability varies by region, certain areas have witnessed significant declines, such as a 40% decrease in the southern Beaufort Sea population from 2001 to 2010. Preventing human and bear fatalities is crucial.

York warns that without action against climate change, polar bears will continue to lose their habitats. Collaboration and innovative strategies are vital to safeguarding these iconic Arctic species.

Reducing lethal encounters and garnering community support are key to preserving polar bear populations and ensuring the safety of those residing in polar bear territories.

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Last modified: December 25, 2023
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