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One doesn’t have to look any further than our two dollar coin to realize that polar bears are uniquely Canadian. But seeing and experiencing polar bears in the wild isn’t exactly an easy task. That is unless you visit Churchill, a small town in Manitoba that happens to be the polar bear capital of the world.
A recent study undertaken by the Canadian Wildlife Service shows that there are nearly 1,000 polar bears in the western Hudson Bay region where Churchill is situated. At more than 1,320 pounds and standing at 10 feet, a polar bear is not something you want to simply walk upon in the wild. With no natural enemies, polar bears are immensely curious when in the presence of people. For this reason, a professional guide or polar bear viewing experience is necessary in Churchill.
In the fall, many Churchill polar bear tour companies use specialized tundra vehicles designed to move carefully across snow and ice and to protect passengers from curious polar bears.
There are also a few wilderness lodges, complete with protective fences, situated on the polar bear’s migration routes that offer guests guided polar bear walks that bring you within a safe range to view the bears from the ground.
Polar bear guides and companies are held to strict guidelines through Manitoba Sustainable Development. Only a small number of tour operators are permitted within the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, where ecological health to both the bears and the land is respected by all.
Peak polar bear viewing season generally runs from for five weeks from mid-October to the end of November. However, July-August is becoming an increasingly popular time to visit Churchill to see polar bears in a summer setting from a boat, along with thousands of beluga whales.
What to bring:
If you’re travelling to Churchill in the fall, prepare yourself for cold conditions. Layers, parkas, waterproof pants, insulated boots, balaclavas, mitts, long underwear, and toques are definitely a must.
How to get there:
If you’re unable to make the trip to Churchill, Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg has a, “Journey to Churchill” polar bear exhibit that is an incredible alternative to the real thing. It features an underwater viewing tunnel so visitors can watch polar bears swim and frolic in the pools, and a huge acreage that allows rescued polar bears to live in a healthy natural habitat. The design mimics northern landscapes and includes a variety of other Arctic species. The exhibit also has the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, an education, research and transition facility for orphaned polar bears from Churchill.
Like this post? Check out Snowshoe Your Way To The Best Wildlife Viewing In Saskatchewan and The North’s Best Kept Secret: The Long John Jamboree, too!