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Polar Bear Patrols Keep Bears At Safe Distance From Arctic Communities

Feb 23, 2016 10:07 AM EST
Polar Bear
Polar bears are spending more time inland as sea ice retreats in the Arctic. This poses a series of risks for people living in coastal communities.
(Photo : Flickr: Christopher Michel)

As sea ice thins and retreats in the Arctic, polar bears are forced to spend more time inland. Cut off from seals, their primary food source, these bears wander into towns and villages to scavenge for leftovers. To reduce potentially harmful encounters, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has set up polar bear patrols

The program, introduced in 2010, helps keep polar bears away from local communities across the Arctic, while also reducing the number of bears that are killed each year. Patrols usually travel by snowmobile or ATV and carry a number of devices to scare bears away before they get too close to people and homes. The WWF recently announced that within the past six years of working with the Hamlet of Arviat, Canada, the program has significantly reduced the number of human-polar bear conflicts. 

"WWF is pleased to see that our ongoing partnership with the Hamlet of Arviat is continuing to pay off for both community members and the polar bears," David Miller, WWF-Canada president and CEO, said in a news release.

Arviat has a 24-hour polar bear hotline to notify patrols as soon as a bear is spotted encroaching on the community. Scare tactics including cracker shells, rubber bullets, beanbags, flares and live rounds are used to deter the bears. Patrols may also use traps bated with seal meat to catch persistent bears and transport them away from communities.

In addition to protecting local residents, patrols have helped reduce the number of polar bears killed under Defence of Life and Property (DLP) regulations from an average of eight per year in 2010, to just one in 2015. This is a remarkable feat, as the animals are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

"We are now working to share these successes with other northern communities to expand the program," Miller added.

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