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Save the polar bear: conserving the endangered species
Sneha Mahale, Hindustan Times
November 03, 2012
First Published: 13:49 IST(3/11/2012)
Last Updated: 18:47 IST(9/11/2012)

The banks of the Hudson, Canada are known as the polar bear capital of the world. Once the bay freezes over, the destination becomes popular with this endangered species. Now, to get the world more involved in the conservation of this animal, explore.org, a philanthropic media organisation, is broadcasting the migration live by placing webcams in the area. So you can now catch live streams of polar bears inhabiting the area and see them in action. The webcams will provide live feed till November 20 and if successful, the duration will be extended till December 10.

“While no experience beats travelling here to lock gaze with a wild polar bear, broadcasting footage from the Tundra is a great way to provide context of the bears’ rapidly changing environment,” says John Gunter, president of Frontiers North Adventures, whose Tundra buggies carry the webcams. Anyone with a connected phone, computer, TV or tablet can watch footage live during daylight hours at www.explore.org/ polarbears with the day’s highlights replaying at night. “The polar bears are the high priests of the Arctic cathedral. And the bears’ story is a simple one that requires very little language,” says Charlie Annenberg, filmmaker and founder of explore.org.

Location
The venue chosen for the experiment is Churchill, Canada. The town sits in the polar bear’s migratory path, and the town and bears somehow co-exist. Most of them hang out along the coast, watching and waiting for the sea ice to return to Hudson Bay. A few head towards town, drawn to the smells. But an active Polar Bear Alert Program managed by Manitoba Conservation keeps them from wandering into the community. “Officers scare them away by firing cracker shells. Problem bears are either placed in a holding facility or airlifted north of town. The goal is to keep both bears and people safe,” says Barbara Nielsen, director of communications, Polar Bears International (PBI).

Minimal impact
The cameras are mounted on buggies (big-wheeled vehicles that roam the Tundra). To ensure that the impact on the environment is minimal, PBI conducted a study several years ago to find whether the cameras or buggies disturb the bears. The scientists found that as long as the drivers follow set guidelines, such as not approaching too fast, the bears are not disturbed. “In fact, the bears are curious about the buggies. Drivers have learned which areas they prefer. Many of the large male polar bears hang out at Cape Churchill, where the ice first forms, and play-wrestle with each other. Mothers with cubs stay more inland. During snowstorms, the bears take shelter in the small willow trees on the Tundra. Many of them curl up in snow beds,” says Gunter.

The hope is that this unique experiment will pay off and become an annual event. “Scientists predict we’ll lose two-thirds of the world’s polar bears by mid-century unless we take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the main reasons we show the migration via our live cams is to inspire people to take action,” says Steve Amstrup, senior scientist, PBI.

Be involved
Explore.org will also broadcast Tundra Connections, a live and interactive 15-part education series featuring world-renowned experts on the bears and the global ecosystem. Moreover, as part of the live cam experience, PBI has created My Planet, My Part, a community gathering place where people can share ideas, become inspired, commit to reducing their carbon footprint, and engage with like-minded people around the world. The platform, on PBI’s site, will feature select live polar bear footage of the wild bear migration as well as daily feeds from explore.org.

Fact and figures.
As of May 2008, the US has listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Biologists estimate there are 20,000 to 25,000 bears left in the wild. About 60 per cent of those live in Canada. There are about 900 polar bears in the Western Hudson population, down from about 1,200 in the early 1980s. The five polar bear nations are Canada, the US (Alaska), Greenland, Russia and Norway, although not all offer viewing opportunities for polar bears. Churchill, Canada, is the best place in the world to see polar bears. Early to mid November is the best time to go. In summer, a cruise in Svalbard, Norway, also provides an excellent viewing opportunity.


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