Sign Up for our Newsletter!
1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453)
In The News

Churchill Wild 2013 Guest Photo Contest Winners

The entries for our annual Churchill Wild Guest Photo Contest were fabulous as usual. You all take such excellent photographs! Thank you very much to all who entered and a hearty congratulations to all the winners below!

PolarBears540PhotoContest

Winner Name Category Place
Ryan Scott Polar Bears 1st
Barbara Landsberg Polar Bears 2nd
Maureen Hannay People 1st
David Stringer People 2nd
Gillian Lloyd Wildlife – Other 1st
Elizabeth Coates Wildlife – Other 2nd
Jan Briggs Amateur 1st
Catherine Bauer Amateur 2nd
Joanne Weeks Landscape 1st
Christian Baum Landscape 2nd

First place winners receive a $1,500 Churchill Wild travel voucher towards a 2015 or 2016 trip to one of our lodges. Second place winners receive a photo book by Churchill Wild’s chief professional photographer Dennis Fast.

Churchill Wild featured in exclusive $1 million safari itinerary

JourneyToNaturesEdge

Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge has been featured in a new exclusive $1 million safari itinerary called Journey to Nature’s Edge.

The itinerary, created by the wildlife specialists at Natural World Safaris, heads around the globe to 12 different countries in search of 18 endangered species. The safari has been designed to raise awareness and understanding of conservation issues, with a percentage of the cost of the trip being donated to each project visited.

Journey to Nature’s Edge has received considerable international press interest, being featured by CNN, The Telegraph and Independent, among others, and there have been a number of enquiries from prospective travelers.

Will Bolsover, Managing Director at Natural World Safaris, felt it was important to include polar bears in the list of endangered species supported by and encountered during the trip.

“Polar bears are one of the flagship species that are in trouble due to climate change,” said Bolsover. “They spearhead the fight against climate change and are also one of the most incredible creatures to see in the wild.”

“We chose to visit Churchill, Canada in search of the polar bear, as it provides one of the most expansive wilderness backdrops remaining in the world today. Through Journey to Nature’s Edge, we want to show our clients the world we live in, and for them to understand the true size of our world, but also to understand the challenges that we face when it comes to conservation, globalization and climate change.

“Seal River Heritage Lodge was the natural choice for the accommodation during this leg of the trip. It is the perfect base from which to explore this remote region with expert guides, comfy lodging and some of the best polar bear sightings within this region. Away from the madding crowds of Churchill, Seal River Heritage Lodge provides exclusivity along with both fall polar bear safaris and summer polar bear tours, putting our clients in the right place at the right time.”

Fore more information please visit Journey to Natures Edge.

Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program protects both bears and humans

by Bob Windsor, Manitoba Conservation

Polar bears that get too close are often housed before being relocated. Photo courtesy of Bob Wendt.

Polar bears that get too close are often housed before being relocated. Photo courtesy of Bob Wendt.

This story originally appeared in Fur Harvester Magazine and is reprinted here courtesy of author Bob Windsor.

Churchill Manitoba is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World, and rightfully so.  Manitoba is home to some of the approximately 1,000 polar bears of the Western Hudson Bay sub-population, and people from all corners of the world flock to Churchill for an opportunity to see the great white bears.

Churchill is built on the bear’s natural migration path, and as a result, it’s not uncommon to see polar bears in the community or skirting along the nearby Hudson Bay Coast. The people of Churchill have learned to co-exist with the bears and have had success in doing it to a degree not found anywhere else in the world.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the late 1960s, the number of bears waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze around Churchill in the fall was as high as 80, and up to 40 bears at a time could be seen in the local waste disposal grounds.

At that time, polar bears posing a threat to human safety or personal property were generally shot. In 1963, 1966 and 1967 there were serious human-bear confrontations in and around the community, and in 1968 there was a fatal attack on a small boy. This led to calls for a program to better manage polar bears in this area.

Three tranquilized polar bears being relocated via helicopter, 70 km north of Churchill.

Three tranquilized polar bears being relocated via helicopter, 70 km north of Churchill.

In 1969, the Polar Bear Control Program was created. The program had three main objectives: to protect human life, to protect personal property from damage by polar bears and to ensure polar bears were not unduly harassed or killed.

During the 1970s there continued to be human-bear encounters, although none were fatal.  Persistent and aggressive bears had to be euthanized for the protection of the people, as there was no other way to handle bears that consistently returned to town. An average of 15 polar bears were destroyed each year in the area.

In 1976, 24 problem polar bears were relocated by DC3 airplane from Churchill to the Kaskattama River area, close to the Manitoba-Ontario border on Hudson Bay. This endeavor was very expensive, and some of the bears returned quickly and had to be destroyed.

It was decided that a holding facility for polar bears would moderate the need to euthanize bears. In 1979, construction started on the facility, which was designed to hold 16 single bears and four family groups. The holding pens are built of concrete bricks with steel bar doors and ceilings.

While the facility was under construction, the Polar Bear Alert Program was established in 1980. The priorities of this program include:

  • protecting human life from polar bears
  • protecting polar bears from harassment or the need to be euthanized
  • minimizing damage to property from polar bears
  • minimizing the potential of food conditioning and/or human habituation of polar bears
  • ensuring the safety of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship staff working with the Polar Bear Alert Program

The Churchill area was divided into three control zones: the living/working area in the community (Zone 1), the inhabited perimeter area (Zone 2) and the remote area (Zone 3).  The level of tolerance for the presence of polar bears is lowest in Zone 1, where all bears are immediately removed.

In 1982, the Polar Bear Holding Facility was put into use and it has held over 2,000 bears to date. Most bears captured are housed at the Polar Bear Holding Facility. The facility was upgraded in 2006 and currently has 28 holding pens, five of which have air conditioning for warm weather use. The amount of time each bear spends in the facility varies, and depends on the amount of space available and the location and frequency of capture.

Bears captured in Zone 1 are held for a minimum of 30 days, with the exception of family groups that are relocated as soon as possible. This 30-day rule was to lessen the chance of a polar bear returning to Zone 1, and also prevents the bears from having the opportunity to become conditioned to human food sources.

The bears are provided with water or snow, but are not fed, as polar bears do not normally feed until they are able to hunt for seals on the frozen Hudson Bay, and survive on the fat stores from the previous season. Also, feeding the bears could condition them to associate man with food, which could lead to the bears returning to Churchill in future.

Today’s Polar Bear Alert Program is staffed with two natural resource officers and three resource management technicians with additional staff during the peak season. The program involves public education, minimizing bear attractants and removing bears from a defined area in and around the community.

Staff monitors a 24-hour emergency bear line. Anyone seeing a bear in or near the community can call (204) 675-BEAR and staff will respond. It is not uncommon during the peak period from mid-October to mid-November for staff to be called out five or six times a night. As the weather gets colder and the ice is closer to forming, the bear activity escalates. Just before freeze-up, staff has chased more than a dozen bears along the edge of town in one day.

The removal of bears from the community or an area where they pose a danger is accomplished by hazing. This involves shooting scare cartridges from shotguns or pistols that cause loud bangs or screams, and following the bears with vehicles.

Bears that do not respond to noise stimulus are sometimes shot with rubber bullets (which don’t harm the bear) or a paint ball gun to encourage them on their way. Particularly stubborn bears are sometimes pushed away by helicopter. If a bear continues to return and will not enter a live trap, it will be immobilized with the use of a tranquilizer gun. This is done by either shooting from the ground, or darting the bear from a helicopter.

Polar Bear Culvert Trap

Polar Bear Culvert Trap

To prevent bears from entering the community, staff will establish a “trap line” around the perimeter of the community to intercept the bears. Bears are captured by use of culvert traps, which are large culverts with metal screens on one end and doors on the other.

The traps are baited with seal meat and fat, which is attached to a trigger in the front of the trap. When the bear enters the trap and pulls on the bait, the door is released and locks. The trap is permanently mounted onto a trailer, which allows the bears to be transported to the Polar Bear Holding Facility.

In 2011, staff responded to 341 polar bear occurrences and handled 61 bears. The most common age class of bears handled is sub-adults (between two- and five-years old).

Each bear is weighed when entering and exiting the Polar Bear Holding Facility, and is measured for length and girth and checked for overall health before it is released.

If not previously handled, each bear will receive ear tags and lip tattoos. The lip tattoo is a number matching their ear tags, and becomes the bear’s permanent “name”. Information such as the date and location of capture, as well as the bear’s health information, is recorded on a data sheet, which is later entered into a data base.

Each year the data base is updated and every bear that has ever been captured will be on record. Many of the bears handled have been tagged previously, some of which have been handled numerous times.

Before freeze-up, bears that are released from the holding facility are tranquilized and then transported by helicopter in a sling approximately 70 kilometers north of Churchill.  They are then released along the coast of the Hudson Bay. Most of the bears will continue moving northward looking for the first ice to form.

At the time of release the bears are marked with a green cattle marker spot on the top of their shoulder. This spot allows for easy recognition of released bears during that season, but wears off within a month or two. Very few bears return to Churchill during the same season. Those that do return and are able to be recaptured are held until the end of the season.

Polar bear jail in Churchill. Polar bear holding facility.

The polar bear holding facility in Churchill houses both single bears and family groups until they are ready for relocation.

After ice forms on the Hudson Bay, the remaining bears in the facility are released directly onto the ice of Hudson Bay by vehicle. The bears are loaded into culvert traps and hauled to the coastline and released. When the bears see the ice they are more than happy to get out on it, and to start hunting for seals.

The Polar Bear Alert Program is unique, and receives a large number of media and group presentation requests each year. Requests are accommodated as time permits, with the priority given to those that promote public education.

The most publicized and dramatized night of the entire bear season is Halloween. The safety of children trick or treating is a very real priority, and warrants special preparations. A helicopter patrol is done before dark and any bears found near town are hazed away. At least 12 two-person units are established from various agencies including Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, R.C.M.P., Parks Canada, Canadian Rangers, the fire department, emergency medical services and Manitoba Hydro.

Some units take up strategic vantage positions while others form mobile patrols. Several media film crews and numerous photographers roam around the community to record the event. Experience has proven the best way to avoid any “tricks” is to carry a good supply of “treats” to share from your patrol vehicle.

The staff who administer the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill are fortunate to experience the privilege of working with these magnificent predators. Nowhere else in Manitoba offers the unique experiences that the staff in Churchill come to enjoy.

The Polar Bear Alert Program is recognized globally for its achievements in protecting human life and preserving the lives of polar bears. The number of bears euthanized in protection of life or property is, on average, less than one per year. Thanks must be given to the people of Churchill, whose cooperation makes this unique program such a success.

Churchill Wild added to elite luxury travel Web sites The Mantis Collection and XO Private

Churchill Wild is proud to announce that our Lodges, Polar Bear Tours and Arctic Safaris will now be included in the elite luxury travel offerings of The Mantis Collection and XO Private.

Polar bear in fireweed near Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Polar bear in fireweed near Seal River Heritage Lodge.

The Mantis Collection of award winning, privately owned, five star properties located around the world, is divided into five distinct groups: Boutique Hotels, Game Reserves, Eco Lodges, Ski Lodges and Chalets and Yachts.

All of the properties in The Mantis Collection represent the finest examples of their kind and celebrate the culture, gastronomy, architecture and nature of the locations in which they are found, to offer guests a truly authentic experience.

Churchill Wild has been added to Eco Experiences in The Mantis Collection, a group of Eco Lodges and destinations which are described on the Mantis Facebook Page as “those with a strong commitment to conservation of the environment and exploration… an eclectic collection of luxurious yet responsible travel opportunities. These experiences all boast unparalleled green credentials and a dedication to the preservation and sustainability of their respective environments. Responsible adventures for a sustainable future.”

We certainly agree with that description! You can find Churchill Wild in the Mantis Collection here.

XO Private is an invitation to discover a world away from the ordinary. They have become the partner of reference for countless luxury properties and high-end service companies around the world and have now included Churchill Wild Lodges, Polar Bear Tours and Arctic Safaris in their elite luxury travel offerings.

XO Private offers a wealth of information on extraordinary travel experiences around the globe and has rapidly developed into a leading source of information and inspiration for knowledgeable travel designers and discerning travelers alike.

Whether searching for unique forms of accommodation, incredible experience operators, knowledgeable destination specialists and/or the professional travel designers who can tailor it all into life changing travel experiences, XO Private is the one-stop portal where dreams are born. On that note…

You can find Churchill Wild on XO Private here.

Cat train on the move to upgrade Churchill Wild polar bear lodges for 2014

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

The Cat Train Crew, led by Mike Reimer and myself, will soon be on our way to Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge and Seal River Heritage Lodge with the materials required for a number of exciting Lodge upgrades! You can watch part of last year’s cat train adventure on the video below.

Once again we have hired Jarret O’Connor to drag his big sleigh and move a few of the heavier pieces, but for the most part it just takes some adventurous teamwork and cooperation combined with a little good luck, favourable tides and decent weather, to get this all done in a timely fashion.

The heavier items include a customized 1970-era dump truck that we built for runway work, and a Stuart Reimer-designed trailer dubbed The Beluga Hydration Unit, that will be used for hauling fresh water, as well as for fire truck duties in its down time.

Now for the upgrades!

Seal River Heritage Lodge

Seal River Heritage Lodge is home to our Birds, Bears & Belugas safari, and it will receive some well-earned equipment to improve the road out to Swan Lake, along with a Kubota tractor and a custom water trailer to help with the movement of water. We will also be completing power upgrades that will bring Seal River up to the level of power we are running at Nanuk, with a 1500-Watt addition to the solar array and a revamp of the power grid. This will help meet the power demands of electric heat and the charging of camera batteries and laptops. We’re also hauling in new dining room furniture to enhance the look and feel Jeanne Reimer has worked so hard to create in the beautiful octagonal dining room, which overlooks Hudson Bay.

Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge

Last year we hauled an entirely new three-phase power system into Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge, but it was put on the back burner until we could finish the main Lodge and shop at Nanuk. Now Dymond gets to shine! There will be much focus on installing the new system along with 3000-Watt solar panels and a 45 kW Shindaiwa generator. We’re also hauling in new kitchen tables and chairs and a large deck/viewing platform that will be erected overlooking Hudson Bay off the north end of the runway. Dymond Lake’s Great Ice Bear Adventure visitors will now dine in luxury while having a fabulous view of the Bay!

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

I’ll be taking a crew into Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge at the beginning of June along with some birders and scientists, to study the northern bird migration. Shortly after that we’ll begin working on a long list of planned improvements for this Lodge. In the middle of June we’ll fill the sky with Cargo North’s Bassler BT67 loaded up with the remaining construction materials we need to complete Mike Reimer’s new vision for this Arctic Safari location, which includes two new guest wings with eight bedrooms and bathrooms. The construction will continue through July and into a portion of August but will be completed before the start of the Mothers and Cubs Adventure.