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Posts Tagged ‘tupik’

Arctic Safari: The Qamanirjuaq Caribou Herd

Four caribou on tundra ridge in Northern Manitoba, Canada

Caribou family outing. Photo Credit: Dennis Fast

by Rick Kemp

With the launch of the Churchill Wild Arctic Safari we are excited to be featuring something we have wanted to give our guests for over a decade – a fly out to witness a stunning caribou migration and a chance to experience Canadian arctic wildlife at its finest, all while immersed in a kaleidoscope of fabulous fall colors!

Churchill Wild’s polar bear tours will never be the same!

Polar bears are always the marquee stars of any Churchill Wild adventure but equal billing for the Arctic Safari can surely go to the caribou of the Qamanirjuaq herd. The Qamanirjuaq caribou herd (ka-min-YOO-ree-ak) is estimated to be between 300,000 to 400,000 strong, and Churchill Wild has located the perfect spot on the migration route to witness this stunning spectacle.

The Qamanirjuaq continues to have strong numbers, despite population declines in other major caribou herds in Canada’s North. The total area used by the herd during their migration spans more than 500,000 square kilometers north to south along the Hudson Bay’s west coast. The winter range primarily consists of forested lands in northern Manitoba and tundra in Manitoba and Nunavut.

In Inuit mythology Tekkeitsertok is the master of caribou, one of the most important gods in the pantheon. Many Dene and Inuit historically depended on caribou for food, clothing and shelter; so much so that the Inuit of the area were given the name “Caribou Eskimo” by early European explorers.

The Inuit survived by hunting and trapping in family groups while living in what is now Nunavut and Northern Manitoba. Although apprehensive for many generations, they began trading regularly with the Europeans in the early 1900s and by the late 1950s were moving into communities. They were encouraged by government to do this so their children could attend school and have access to medical care.

Today, the Qamanirjuaq caribou continue to be very important in maintaining the culture and traditional lifestyles of Dene, Métis, and Inuit across the north by providing food, materials for traditional clothing, special tools & shelter.

Tupik at Dymond Lake Lodge

Tupik at Dymond Lake Lodge

One of the shelters that was traditionally constructed is called a “tupik”. Last fall an Inuit couple named Peter and Mary graciously visited to teach our guests about their culture and their way of life during the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake Ecolodge. Peter and Mary built the tupik to show us what they would live in while traveling and hunting during the summer months in the north. The tupik is constructed of about 20 caribou hides and long skinny timbers.

An Inuit legend about the origin of caribou goes like this:

Once upon a time there were no caribou on the earth. But then there was a man who wished for caribou, and he cut a great hole deep into the ground, and up through this hole came caribou, many caribou.  The caribou came pouring out, till the earth was almost covered with them.  And when the man thought there were caribou enough for mankind, he closed up the hole again. Thus the caribou came up on earth.

The numbers of caribou seem to be inconsistent but plentiful. Distribution and migration of 10 adult female Qamanirjuaq caribou have been monitored since 1993 using radio-collars and tracked by satellites. The results of this study have provided insight to the herd’s recent distribution and movement patterns.

While Churchill Wild goes to great lengths to preserve the natural habitat we encounter, there are some external threats that are concerning. Hydro transmission lines, roads to communities in northern Manitoba, mineral exploration and mines are all issues local groups have voiced concern with. These activities continue to spread to the calving and post-calving areas.  Hydro-electric development could affect movement of the herd during spring and fall migration as they may need to make detours if traditional water crossing sites are impassable due to water level changes from hydro dams.

As a way of addressing these and other concerns the Beverly & Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) was established in 1982 to coordinate management of the herds.  The Board’s responsibility is to make recommendations to government and conduct projects for conservation and management of the caribou herds and their habitat.

There are times when a caribou is in the vicinity of one of our lodges and guests are always amazed with their grace. To see one as part of a herd is fascinating and a spectacle we are excited to present as part of our Polar Bear Arctic Safari.

But caribou and polar bears? Together? Polar bears are often said to be the world’s largest land predators and our experienced guides (Andy & Terry) keep the guests safe. What about the caribou?

While there have been very few documented cases of the two species interacting, some observations indicate that polar bears will stalk and chase caribou, but you would not likely witness it during your adventure with Churchill Wild.

Fall colors in the arctic

Spectacular fall colors in the Arctic. Photo Credit: Dennis Fast

Churchill Wild’s polar bear guides have been reporting an increasing number of polar bear sightings on the caribou range, with bears spotted as far as 150 kilometres from the coast in recent years.

Last summer a polar bear found its way as far south as Shamattawa, Manitoba – about 400 kilometres away from the Hudson Bay coast. These instances are extremely rare but the phenomenon could explain the “grolar” or “pizzly” bears (which we will pretty much guarantee you will NOT see!)

Churchill Wild’s Arctic Safari is easily our most ambitious adventure to date and the timing is essential. A small window in early September provides the perfect apex to see the widest variety of wildlife and brilliant displays of the Aurora Borealis.

The Arctic Safari takes you over 20,000 square kilometres of the wildest regions in the Arctic; providing the potential “Big Five” (and then some) of wolves, caribou, moose, three species of bears (polar, black and grizzly), belugas, arctic and colored fox, wolverine, beaver, pine marten, arctic birds and of course, spectacular Northern Lights.

For more information about the Arctic Safari or any of our Arctic Adventure Travel Experiences, please call our office, sign up for our newsletter or e-mail us at info@churchillwild.com. We would love to hear from you!

Polar Bear Diary from Great Ice Bear Adventure 2010 at Dymond Lake Lodge

Polar bear saunters towards Dymond Lake Lodge Dinner Hall

Polar bear saunters towards Dymond Lake Lodge Dinner Hall

Text and photos by Nolan Booth

We pieced together some of our notes to describe a week in the life of Dymond Lake Lodge at the Great Ice Bear Adventure. We’re always happy when Mother Nature cooperates with good weather and plenty of polar bears, but we know full well that she is always in charge!

Monday

This week’s guests are a very interesting and diverse group of Swiss, English and New Zealanders. They took a day to start talking, but the polar bear action really helped. They definitely feel special to have had one bear travel all the way home with them and walk right past the camp, and another sleeping 25 feet from their front window. They’ll be telling these stories forever…

Tuesday

The weather has gone from warm to cold and snowy and back over the last few days. It’s windy now and the snow is melting.  Our Inuit couple, Peter and Mary, who graciously offered to visit Dymond Lake to teach our guests a little bit about their culture and their way of life, have been working hard. Peter is constantly carving antlers into tools, toys and games. Mary is always cooking bannock or sewing.

Tupik at Dymond Lake Lodge

Tupik built by Inuit couple Peter and Mary at Dymond Lake Lodge

The Inuit couple have set up a summer tupik to show us what they would live in while traveling and hunting during the summer months in the north. The tupik is constructed of about 20 caribou hides and long skinny timbers.

Today Peter surprised me and built a one man igloo with the little snow we have. He shoveled a small pad on the ground and then cut blocks from a snow drift that had formed behind one of the cabins. As expected, the little snow hut is quite warm once you get in and block off the door. It takes nothing more than a candle and some body heat to stay warm inside.

No polar bear sightings yet but all guests are sleeping and I can hear “Mr. Big” back behind the garage. Right now our igloo blocks have shrunk by half so it may turn into a doghouse unless it gets colder soon.  Busy day checking all systems, everything is running smooth.  Just have to get rid of the Martin in the garage. He keeps eating anything that’s fuzzy.

Wednesday

Six polar bears today – amazing how things change, but once again, Mother Nature dictates the pace up here.  A mom and two cubs hanging around the wind sock; a big male circling camp all day; two 3-year-old bears dancing on the ice outside the dining room. Tonight we took the guests out with the spotlight after dinner just to hear the bears sparring – thumping each other, their claws scraping the cracking ice in the dark – eerie and amazing.

Thursday

Polar bear and guests meet outside Dymond Lake Lodge

Polar bear and guests meet outside Dymond Lake Lodge

New group of guests in today and the polar bears are already here. All outgoing guests are extremely happy.  Sam (our dog) got to show off his skills tonight after another bear walked right across the step of my cabin while Peter was on his way outside to have a cigarette. I told him he now has a choice between smoking or getting eaten by a polar bear that has now patterned him and knows that he comes out every couple of hours.  He says he’ll take his chances… and keeps me laughing while dancing around the cabin yelling “Polar Bear! Polar Bear! Polar Bear!” over and over.

Friday

Just came back and had a bear sleeping on the road 20 feet from the Wilson cabin. Woke everyone up and they had a great first day. Thirty photo-ops, lights on and off, then informed the guests I would have to chase the bear off later so that I wouldn’t have to sleep in their cabin tonight. The big bear is now sleeping and doesn’t even notice me yelling at him. Guests had a good laugh and in the end the bear did too. One screamer and two crackers had him sleeping 200 yards back in the bush. George and Sam are on high alert while I sleep… until George gets me up to see the northern lights…  Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a nap in.

Saturday

I think we have five different bears visiting us regularly and they have become more active over the past few days.  One is big and I was standing 30 feet from him last night. He does not like it when I yell at him and for now I’m hoping it stays that way because the garage door he was prying at doesn’t stand a chance.

Sunday

Polar bear Mr. Big outside compound at Dymond Lake Lodge

Good morning Mr. Big! Polar bear outside compound at Dymond Lake Lodge.

More bears today, banging on the garage, walking between the cabins, interrupting my speech. The guests love it but George does not like the bears looking into his bedroom. Tonight I will get little sleep. The big polar bear is walking around the cabin again. Thank goodness for the compound fence and George or I wouldn’t get any sleep.

Four wolves at the end of the runway, not sticking around but will be back. Five polar bears roamed passed the compound fence before the sun came up and one decided to stay awhile… sleeping 10 feet from the fence.

Good morning Mr. Big!