Tag Archive: Climate change


On Sunday I had the privileged of being a guest naturalist with Classic Canadian Tours on a one day Polar Bear Safari out of Edmonton. We had a wonderful day with over 20 bears spotted, including several mothers with cubs.

If you can only spare a day away from home over a weekend in October or November, I highly recommend these tours. The chartered flight from either Calgary, Edmonton or Saskatoon will take you directly to Churchill and have you out on the tundra viewing polar bears by mid-morning until dusk!  All meals are covered and there is even enough time to head into the town of Churchill to pick up a few souvenirs before heading home.

Below are just a few photos (click on each one for a larger view) from our trip on November 9th as well as more details about the bears and the trip itself. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments.

Polar bear play fighting B&W WMPolar bear sparring is a cold weather event. Only when temperatures get to around -10 degrees Celsius do the bears get frisky. Any warmer than that and they are too hot to play. Yes, you read that right! Polar bears are so well insulated against the cold that they only get active when the temperature dips to levels that would easily kill many other mammals. The above photo is of a mother (left) and her two year old cub that took a break from napping to spar during a winter snowstorm in Churchill, Manitoba.

Frozen bear hair WMWith blowing snow starting to cover this bear, it hunkered down for a snooze. Polar bears are so well insulated that any snow that falls on their coat doesn’t melt  and provides another layer of insulation against the cold. Having not eaten a meal since July, the bears spend most of their time conserving energy while they wait for the sea ice to form. The late afternoon light, the snow crusted fur and the blowing snow over the paws of this bear made for an interesting photo

Polar bear paw and stare WMUp close and personal, this bear came to investigate our tundra buggy and provides a great example of just how big their feet are! Polar bears are great swimmers with these big feet and can easily outswim Olympic athletes. The longest swim ever recorded for a polar bear was 687km over 9 days straight!  The female bear lost 22% over her body weight during that time.

Polar bear smile WMPolar bears have an amazing sense of smell which is needed to find seals under ice and scattered over large stretches of the arctic. This bear was catching our scent as it passed next to our buddy.

Polar bears and tundra landscape WMTo cap off our wonderful day, these two bears started heading out towards Hudson Bay as another storm on the horizon moved in on us. Hard to believe you can wake up and see polar bears all day long and be back home in the comfort of your own bed the same night!

If you would love to have an experience like this, check out Classic Canadian Tours website to get more details about this amazing safari and similar trips to see grizzly bears and beluga whales in other remote locations throughout Canada.

Wondering what the bears are up to right now?  Click on this link to watch live coverage from Churchill as the Tundra Buggy Cam gives you live streaming videos of the bears before they head out onto the ice to start hunting.

 

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Caribou curious WM

If I told you that for the past few years mountain caribou have been captured by nets, sedated and loaded into helicopters and then flown to either awaiting transport trailers or large enclosures on the sides of mountains you would likely think I’m pulling your leg. I wish I was, but for the past several years dedicated teams composed of First Nations personnel, wildlife biologists, fellow veterinarians, and countless others have being doing just that in order to try to conserve some of the most critically endangered caribou herds in British Columbia.

Past and current caribou conservation measures in the province include everything from limiting human access to caribou habitat, predator management and caribou translocations. Talks continue to occur to establish a captive breeding program so that there is a source population for dwindling herds, but while those plans are still in the preliminary stages other intensive caribou conservation initiatives are being implemented. The most recent includes what is termed ‘maternal penning’ of caribou.

Maternal penning involves taking wild, pregnant caribou and placing them in large enclosures in their native habitat for about 3 months. During this time they are protected from predators, given lots of lichen and other high quality caribou food and provided with a safe place to give birth to their calves. Disturbances from people are kept to an absolute minimum so caribou are not conditioned to human presence. The calves are born in May-June and kept in the enclosure for the next 1-2 months until they are strong enough to easily keep up with the herd and to be able to outrun predators like wolves and bears. At this point the mothers and calves are released back into their natural habitat and monitored to track calf survival. Previous application of this technique in the Yukon showed promising results and so the technique was adapted for use in the mountainous areas of British Columbia.

A few months ago maternal penning projects were undertaken for two declining herds in BC. One was in Revelstoke and another near Chetwynd. The later is a unique initiative spearheaded by the West Moberly First Nations in partnership with biologists and the provincial government.  The West Moberly first nations have suspended their treaty right to hunt caribou for the past several decades and have recently used this treaty right to drive the process of caribou recovery in their native lands. They created their own caribou recovery plan that met the requirements of the Species at Risk Act, which in turn has led to the maternal penning project that was implemented earlier this spring.

It is too early to say whether all of these efforts will pay off, and some may argue that the resources put into mountain caribou conservation would be better spent elsewhere. In my opinion caribou are just a symptom of much bigger problems that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. While governments decide on what to do to combat climate change as a result of habitat destruction and pollution, those of us on the front lines will continue to try to treat the symptoms until the bigger issues are finally addressed.

If you’re interested in learning more about mountain caribou click on the below links for additional details.

 

Caribou water mountains WM

 

Mountain caribou herds facing extinction

Alberta government sells off caribou habitat to industry

US government downgrades mountain caribou federal status despite continued declines

Revelstoke caribou rearing in the wild

Captive breeding of mountain caribou

Snapping turtle watermark

They may not be considered pretty by many but no one can argue that they are adaptable.  Snapping turtle ancestors date back some 40 million years! On the other hand human ancestors have only been around as a species for about 200,000 years. Which begs the question, would snapping turtles prefer living with dinosaurs over living with humans?

As human induced climate change continues they will need to continue to adapt or face extinction. The gender of snapping turtles and several egg laying reptiles is determined by the temperature the eggs are incubated at. Female will develop at colder temperatures and males at higher temperatures.  Only a few degrees of difference is needed to change the sex of the soon to be hatched eggs, but if global warming continues these reptiles will have to modify their nesting behaviours if they are going to survive.

In this photo, a female was on the move to try to find a good spot to lay her eggs. After taking this photo I carefully lifted her up to avoid being bitten and took her across the road to make sure she made it safely. Everyone needs a helping hand once in a while and now more than ever wildlife needs ours!