Manitoba

'Enough's enough': Number of polar bear cubs shipped out of Churchill could be cut back

Manitoba's minister in charge of wildlife wants to scale back the number of orphaned polar bears shipped to Winnipeg from Churchill, saying she has heard "loud and clear" from those in the northern town.

'Enough's enough already, too many of our cubs have been going to zoos,' says Churchill Mayor Mike Spence

About nine cubs have been sent to Winnipeg in the past three years, since the Journey to Churchill enclosure opened at Assiniboine Park Zoo. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Manitoba's minister in charge of wildlife wants to scale back the number of orphaned polar bear cubs shipped to Winnipeg from Churchill, saying she has heard "loud and clear" from those in the northern town.

Rochelle Squires made those comments Tuesday after people in Churchill, including Mayor Mike Spence, spoke out earlier this week after learning that two cubs are in holding pens, waiting to be flown south to Winnipeg.

"We're disappointed. The community is very strong in saying enough's enough already, too many of our cubs have been going to zoos," Spence said. "We need to do something different here."

Squires, Manitoba's sustainable development minister, plans to shake up the province's polar bear advisory council, expanding both its membership and mandate to consider new options for orphaned cubs on the tundra.

That could include establishing a rehabilitation centre in Churchill, so the bears remain nearer their natural habitat.

"That is something we're going to be looking at," she said.

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires says someone from Churchill will be made a member of the province's polar bear advisory council. (CBC)

At present, there is no one from Churchill on the advisory council, so Squires intends to invite Spence to appoint someone. Then she wants the council to examine new ideas for orphan cub management.

The current policy when orphaned bears are spotted calls for conservation officers to corral them, collect some data and send them down to the conservation centre in Winnipeg.

About nine cubs have been sent to Winnipeg in the past three years, since the Journey to Churchill enclosure opened at Assiniboine Park Zoo.

"I heard the community very loud and clear and certainly do see the value in leaving these bears in their habitat and seeing if there's a chance for survival and seeing if we can do research with them in their natural habitat as opposed to in the zoo," Squires said Tuesday.

That said, she still intends to fly the two cubs in the holding pens to Winnipeg.

"Ultimately, we believe that polar bears belong on the tundra and that these bears are irreplaceable to the community of Churchill, but we also know that the tundra can be a cruel place for orphaned cubs and that these yearlings had a very slim chance of surviving on their own," Squires said.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence says 'enough's enough' and the Manitoba government should stop removing orphaned polar bear cubs from his town and sending them to Winnipeg. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

They had become conditioned to being fed rather than finding food, "so that slim chance of survival on their own had decreased even more," she added.

"That is when I made the decision to bring the bears in. I can assure you that it was not an easy decision."

They are expected to be moved by the end of the week.

While Spence appreciates Squires' intention to make changes, he hoped it would start immediately.

"This is a missed opportunity," he said about the two cubs awaiting their flight. "I thought that this would be a great opportunity to do something different here."

He also disagrees with the notion by that all orphaned cubs have little chance of survival. Spence said that's only a guess, and no one really knows because there haven't been studies.

He suggested putting tracking devices on cubs to monitor them.

"If one survived, then there's been success. But if you don't try it, you don't know," he said.

"The laziest thing to do is 'Let's stick them in a zoo. Let's give them a life sentence.' Well, let's do something different, let's do something bold."

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