|The Lazy Bear Lodge and Cafe|
Most frequently in the past the bears highway into town was via Button Street ending up opposite the Lazy Bear Lodge in the town's center. Disturbed at the thought – I was staying at the Lazy Bear Lodge – I asked Jerry our guide what to expect should I see a bear sneaking out from one of the alleys lining the main street. “Don't worry” he said. “If you see a bear just give it a wide berth! Once they reach town the stimuli usually confuses them. Houses and cars are left unlocked during bear season, so just duck into the nearest door or flag down a car.”
Was it any consolation to hear that problem bears, those that return again and again, are sedated and shipped out of town in a cradle hanging beneath a helicopter?
Indeed it was. Doped and disoriented, delinquent bears are deposited in a more northerly area close to the sea ice. The cost of this punishment, starting at $5,000 a time, is borne by Churchillians. A fund, kept in the black by film crews who want to photograph an evacuation, lessens the burden with a constant inflow of photography fees.
As I snuggled deep into my duvet in the Lazy Bear Lodge that first night on Canada's wild frontier, my thoughts drifted back to the day's polar bear safari out on the tundra.
Just feet apart, my camera trained on his face, I looked into a pair of dangerously intelligent eyes. They were dark brown edged with a milky halo. He hissed softly as he watched me. As I looked back at him through my camera lens I felt almost hypnotized.
He was what Jarret, our driver, called 'a real pretty bear', but the truth is that this huge, fluffy, cuddly looking animal with its gentle dog-like face could and would, given the opportunity, crush a human head with its powerful jaws in seconds.
A representative from the Polar Bears International organization showed us exactly how in a demonstration with Jerratt, our driver, acting as polar bear lunch.
Meanwhile, back in the Lazy Bear Lodge the sharp report of cracker shells throughout the dark night reminded me that it was dangerous out there. On patrol 24/7, rangers touring the town's perimeter and equipped with spotlights, illuminate dark spaces where polar bears could be hiding.
Should a bear be seen in town, the eerie wail of a siren alerts the townspeople.
Thinking back on those incredible days on Canada's Arctic tundra I couldn't help fear for the future of these magnificent beasts.
Images copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 30th November, 2010