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Close encounter with a polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.

Close encounter with a polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.

by Allison Reimer

Uh-Oh! Looks like Andy and Terry (our long-standing head polar bear guides) might have some competition in the polar bear whispering department.

Following the Wolf and Carnivore Conference in Thompson, Manitoba on October 18-19, there is a special Polar Bear Workshop being presented by Russian researcher, Nikita Ovsyanikov. The workshop focuses on non-lethal polar bear safety and comes with a Certificate of Attendance. This is the first time this workshop has been offered in Canada and it’s a great opportunity for all of us working and living in areas with high polar bear populations.

Nikita Ovsyanikov

Nikita Ovsyanikov

If you’ve been to one of our lodges, you may have had the pleasure of viewing Ovsyanikov’s fascinating documentary Polar bears: Life on the Field of Bones. Ovsyanikov lived in a tiny shack on Wrangel Island in northern Siberia with polar bears on his doorstep. He holds a PhD in Zoology and has spent almost his entire life interacting with one carnivore or another. He started his work with polar bears on Wrangel Island in 1990.

The Polar Bear Workshop is an all-day practical and theoretical seminar which will demonstrate managing polar bear encounters. Studying animal behaviour is important for both the safety of people and the safety of the animals. Polar bears are powerful predators, but like all animals, they have behavioural patterns that can be understood and managed.

Ovsyanikov will establish a basic set of rules on how to prevent an adverse encounter with a polar bear. Furthermore, he will provide steps on handling conflict with a bear using animal friendly methods, should you be surprised or confronted.

A huge part of safe interaction with polar bears is preparation and awareness. When guests arrive, they are given a safety demonstration to prepare them for what they will see and feel out in the field. When you’re the biggest predator around, you’re generally not fond of surprises, so we make noises when approaching hills or dense bush to alert anything nearby. These are just a few examples of Polar Bear 101 etiquette. Ovsyanikov will go deeper into the science behind cooperating with dangerous wildlife and keeping our polar bears safe.

This isn’t a workshop on “how to pet a polar bear,” but rather on how to establish safe ways of observing, coexisting, and handling conflict when living in such a large predator’s habitat. Ovsyanikov based this seminar on an analysis of over 2,000 personal encounters with polar bears and 25 years of research. Living with the bears allowed him to understand what governs a polar bear’s behaviour.

What provokes a bear to attack? How do you deter a bear intent on attacking you without harming it in the process? These are some of the questions Ovsyanikov will be offering solutions for during the Polar Bear Workshop.

Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guides Andy MacPherson (left) and Terry Elliot.

Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guides Andy MacPherson (left) and Terry Elliot.

There will be two parts to the workshop: individual safety and safe infrastructure.

Individual safety includes theory on comprehending factors that cause conflict, the basics of polar bear behavior, and practical training on how to design and implement safety guidelines.

Safe infrastructure comprises theory and specific planning, considering geography, ecology, polar bear density and activity in the area.

Terry Elliott, our polar bear guide with the best hair, is attending the conference and the workshop! Not that he has any reason to doubt his mad polar bear whispering skills, but when the opportunity came to speak to and learn from Nikita Ovsyanikov, he was eager to sign up.

I think Polar bears: Life on the Field of Bones may be Terry’s most watched movie, but don’t quote me on that. The Polar Bear Workshop is limited to a maximum of 16 people. It will be held the day after the Wolf and Carnivore Conference on October 20. The registration deadline for this rare workshop closes October 1, so don’t wait too long to sign up!

More information on the Wolf and Carnivore Conference and the Polar Bear Workshop can be found on the Thompson Spirit Way website.

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