Po­lar bears cir­cled in­jured hunters for three days

Many Inuit feel their lives are be­ing en­dan­gered by hunt­ing re­stric­tions

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - BOB WE­BER

Two in­jured Inuit hunters hud­dled for three days with the body of their friend who was killed by a po­lar bear, four other bears cir­cling their camp.

“They had to sit tight,” said

Rob Hed­ley, ad­min­is­tra­tor for the ham­let of Nau­jaat, Nu­navut, where the hunters were from.

“It was pretty scary. They didn’t sleep and they were out there for a while.”

Nu­navut’s sec­ond po­lar bear death this sum­mer sparked wide­spread out­rage Wed­nes­day among Inuit, who feel their lives are be­ing en­dan­gered by hunt­ing re­stric­tions im­posed by south­ern­ers. The hunters left Nau­jaat on the north­ern­most shore of Hud­son Bay on Aug. 21 to hunt nar­whal and cari­bou. They were ex­pected home on Thurs­day.

Po­lice said they were no­ti­fied when the trio hadn’t shown up by Sun­day.

A search be­gan Mon­day with fed­eral, ter­ri­to­rial and lo­cal teams. Although res­cuers knew roughly where the hunters were headed, search boats were blocked by heavy sea ice.

The Coast Guard ice­breaker Louis St. Lau­rent joined the search and its heli­copter found the hunters early Tues­day about 100 kilo­me­tres east of Nau­jaat near Lyon In­let.

“It looks like it was a mother and a cub,” said Hed­ley. “The mother and the cub were killed.

“(The hunters) killed at least one more. There were mul­ti­ple other bears in the area that were at­tracted by blood and scent.”

The two in­jured hunters weren’t badly hurt and were treated and re­leased.

In early July, an Arviat man was killed when a bear ap­peared dur­ing a fam­ily out­ing on an is­land near the com­mu­nity. Aaron Gib­bons, 31, died af­ter he placed him­self be­tween the bear and his chil­dren, who were able to run to safety.

So­cial me­dia was alive Wed­nes­day with posts from one end of the Arc­tic to the other ex­press­ing anger over the deaths. Inuit have long held that they’re hav­ing more in­ter­ac­tions with bears on the land.

“I can’t even de­scribe the pain we’re feel­ing right now,” said He­lena Mal­liki from Nau­jaat.

Quo­tas that limit the num­bers of bears that can be killed in each re­gion pre­vent Inuit from thin­ning the pop­u­la­tion, she said.

“Those (bears) could have been caught if we didn’t have these laws from the gov­ern­ment,” she said.

“(Bears) are in our land and they are very, very dan­ger­ous.”

Inuit have man­aged their wildlife suc­cess­fully for gen­er­a­tions, said Shelly Wood­ford from Rankin In­let.

“We al­ways treat the an­i­mals with re­spect. We’re not go­ing to go over­board.”

An­drew De­rocher, a po­lar bear bi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Al­berta, pointed out that quo­tas are set in Nu­navut af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with hunters.

He warned that without care­ful man­age­ment of the an­i­mals, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity would be likely to ban ex­ports of po­lar bear prod­ucts and tro­phies from Canada, wip­ing out im­por­tant in­come for Inuit.

That could leave Inuit killing even fewer bears, much like when the Euro­pean ban on seal fur de­stroyed that mar­ket.

The Foxe Basin bear pop­u­la­tion around Nau­jaat has lost about 30 days of sea ice cover over the last sev­eral decades in the area where it hunts.

“Bears start to move ashore,” De­rocher said. “Once all those bears are on shore, the like­li­hood of them com­ing into con­flict with peo­ple in­creases.

“The ecosys­tem is chang­ing. Peo­ple in po­lar bear habi­tat have to look at chang­ing some of their be­hav­iour.”

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