State of the Union

I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since I came to Cochrane.  A year more of bears, and a few more grey hairs (no they’re not highlights) has kept life interesting.

2017 really expanded our horizons, both literally and figuratively.  We’ve just begun to realize the full extent of opportunities our lake enclosure gives to our bears – and to us.  Watching them swim for hours in the summer, bring their favourite toys all the way down from an adjoining enclosure, or just wait patiently by the gate till a Keeper gives them access has been one of the most satisfying things in my career.  We worked hard to make it happen, but to see how much the bears love it has surpassed any dream we had of what it might be.

Some of the initial fears we had when we first opened the enclosure ceased to materialize – like worrying they wouldn’t come in at the end of the day.  Turns out … all that activity makes for exhausted polar bears who just want to get into their jammies and return to their comfy rooms.  We also had no idea that with all that space and natural stimulation – that they’d still want to bring toys down.  Another surprise from the bears’ first full summer on the lake – they love cattails!

This year we really became show savvy.  Dylan, Amy and Sidney have become live feed pros and media darlings with numerous pieces on CTV, CBC, The Weather Channel, and Discovery.  We’ve skyped, zoomed and phoned in from a café in Toronto airport, the observation deck above the bear pool and even our PBH truck while driving the ice road from Moosonee to Fort Albany pulling a live polar bear trap.  We’ve filmed our bears testing new bear proof bins, doing voluntary training in our custom crate and our Keepers in helicopters.  We’ve learned that being small has its advantages … we mobilize quickly so we can act faster.

In 2017 we truly went international, with contact from Germany – to Australia – to Russia.  We reached out to our other polar bear professionals during skyped workshops with participants from Oregon, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Yorkshire, England and the Gold Coast, Australia, and our Conservation Coordinator, Dylan, attended and presented at conferences in the United States and England.  We now regularly host our own live feeds, and are becoming very adept at producing an entire show complete with host and multiple camera feeds for our growing social media audience.  Perhaps most telling of our elevated status in the media world is the fact we’re now asked regularly for our input on trending stories like Paul Nicklen’s recent “face of starvation” video.

But we know this is just the beginning.  Recently the world has opened its eyes to the reality of what polar bears may be facing – and it’s truly disturbing.  Everything we’ve done here at the Habitat has been part of a greater plan.  We needed to expand so we could learn more about what possibilities may exist for polar bears if things become worse.  But we need to do more.  We need to offer a place where we can research reintroduction strategies to see if it’s possible, and somewhere we can isolate bears for either that purpose, or for their own well-being.

In 2018 we hope to begin to work towards that dream.  We’ll begin the process of confirming feasibility, collecting and evaluating information and asking for support to build a Net Zero Research and Isolation facility so we can be available for more bears in need, and better serve polar bear students and educators.  There’s a lot to do, and we can’t guarantee we’ll be successful with everything, but we feel a responsibility to try.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished but know there’s more we can do for our own community, and for the world’s polar bear community.  We hope you’ll join us on our journey.

In the meantime, enjoy our Christmas newsletter!  We look forward to seeing you soon at the Habitat.

Written by: Karen Cummings

State of the Union