The bears are back: Nunavut sorts through 235 repatriated polar bear hides

This week, Nunavut's Environment Department is sorting through 235 repatriated polar bear hides that wouldn’t sell at auction in Ontario.

Raw polar bear hides worth $1,000 max, Environment department says

Wildlife operations director John Neely holds up one of 235 polar bear hides that are returned to Nunavut after they wouldn't sell at auction. (Beth Brown/CBC)

This week Nunavut's Environment Department is sorting through 235 repatriated polar bear hides that wouldn't sell at auction in Ontario.   

The bears just arrived back from the South, where they were in storage at an auction house in North Bay, some for up to a decade. And while they're too small, old or yellowed to interest an international buyer, there's nothing wrong with these bears, says wildlife operations director Jon Neely. 

"It's not that they're bad bears, it's just the quality that international buyers are looking for tends to be top of the line," he said. 

The hunters who first owned the hides have until the end of this week to let the territory know if they want their bears back. But the department expects only 10 per cent of harvesters will want to repay an advance made on the furs back when they were worth more. 

That advance could have been up to $3,000. Neely says the best and biggest of these bear hides will only be sold for $1,000. 

The market for bear hides was hot when the animals were being considered for endangered status. Because that didn't happen, it dropped, and these bears never sold. 

The untanned hides are being sorted for quality and size. Neely says the highest quality ones could be worth around $1,000. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Stay tuned for how to buy one

The raw bear hides are being unpacked in Iqaluit this week from the breathable fur storage bags they arrived in and are being stacked by size and quality for grading. 

They're dusty from a sawdust used at the auction house to combat moisture. Each still has its red territorial wildlife tag. 

The Environment Department is working with the Department of Economic Development on how to sell and donate the bears. Some will go to non-profits while other will be available for sale. 

Neely says there will be an even split for what quality of furs are sold and which ones go to charity. 

The government isn't trying to make a profit on the hides he said. To keep the prices low, they won't be processed first. 

"We're not having them tanned to up the price. We want to sell them in the state that they're in," he said. 

The public will be told how they can purchase a polar bear fur in the coming weeks.

Each bear has a wildlife tag from the Department of Environment. Neely says only 10 per cent of the hides will be bought back by harvesters. (Beth Brown/CBC)