It seems like a scene straight from a children’s book: From the distance, a magnificent polar bear emerges and walks towards a small dog lying in the snow. As the bear approaches, the dog cowers, and the giant predator stretches out a giant paw to pet the vulnerable canine. But unfortunately, despite a recent video showing this incredible behavior, two days later the bear returned to kill another dog in the pack.
The video was filmed not far from Churchill, Manitoba. Tourists come to the town every year to see the bears in their natural environment. There are very strict rules governing how to interact with the creatures. Basically, no contact, no feeding, and don’t disrupt them as they go about their business. At this time of year, the bears are actually fasting as they have returned to land to wait for the sea ice to reform.
But on the grounds of one property near Churchill, tourists can pay to see the wild bears interacting with chained up sledge dogs. The attraction, run by a local, is highly controversial, to say the least. By feeding the dogs out on the tundra, it also attracts some of the hundreds of bears that gravitate to the area surrounding Churchill each year, and rather than trying to prevent this from happening, the owner of dogs instead capitalizes on it. He leaves his dogs chained up outside, and simply "throws them meat" to feed them, without supervision. This attracts hungry polar bears to the area, but allows the owner to maintain plausible deniability, and claim he is not feeding them deliberately.
The settlement of Churchill has many procedures in order to try and reduce the bear-human conflict. One of the major measures in place is the polar bear “jail” that is used every year to incarcerate problem bears that have wandered into the town in search of an easy meal. They can then be airlifted out onto the ice once is forms. A main tenet of the town is to not, under any circumstances, feed the bears. This would make the world’s largest land predator associate humans with food, something that the authorities are keen to not to let happen.
Therefore, the bears that visit the property are not only a threat to the dogs themselves, which are known to get mauled and even killed by hungry polar bears, but also to humans, as the bears start to associate humans and dogs with food. And when a habituated bear turns up at an unsuspecting persons door or tent searching for scraps, which animal do you think will get the bullet?
In fact, days after the viral footage was filmed, conservation officers had to tranquilize not one bear on the property but three, including a mother and her cub. So rather than being something cute and cuddly, what we’re really seeing is something more akin to Jurassic Park with the T-rex and a goat.