Since I was a little girl, I have dreamt of seeing a polar bear in the wild where he is king of his domain. This dream was possible because of your love, passion, and dedication to the north and your work. From the bottom of my heart and the little girl who lives within it, I thank you for this amazing experience. It was a privilege and honor to be able to walk among them in their natural habitat brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Lynne and David FoxAmherstburg, ON
Polar bear emerges from snow squall at Dymond Lake Ecolodge. Robert Postma photo.

Mike and Jeanne Reimer pioneered polar bear walking safaris in 1993 after seeing an opportunity for an immersive polar bear experience on the rugged coast of Hudson Bay. Read more about our story.

They combined fly-in lodges, ground-level wildlife encounters, regionally inspired cuisine, and family-run service to create a safari like no other. More than 6,000 guests have experienced the incredible adventure of meeting a polar bear at ground level since this award-winning concept was tested on our first guest nearly thirty years ago.

Churchill Wild has won numerous national and international tourism awards for excellence, Mike and Jeanne Reimer have been elected to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows, and guests have become loyal and emotional evangelists, not only for Churchill Wild’s unique brand of ecotourism, but also for the polar bears and their fragile Arctic environment.

Polar bear tourism works in different ways, on multiple levels, to increase awareness of polar bears and their environment, while also contributing to economic development and benefitting people in the surrounding communities.

How We Safely Walk With Polar Bears

Our nearly three decades of experience have provided us with tremendous insights into polar bear behaviour, and these insights have been invaluable in establishing safety protocols for working with — and walking with — the world’s largest land predator.

There may be only a handful of people in the world who have the level of experience working with polar bears that is held by Churchill Wild co-founder and owner Mike Reimer and the Churchill Wild guides.

All our lead guides have at least 10 years of experience working with wild polar bears, and many of our guides also have experience guiding for grizzly and black bear tours. Regardless of their background, guides must complete the Bear Guard Training Course which is recognized by Parks Canada, the Government of Nunavut, and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). They must also pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, possess a First Aid and CPR certificate, and Small Vessel Operator Proficiency.

Upon arrival at the lodge, guests are shown to their rooms and given time to settle in and before any excursions take place, our lead guide gives an extensive orientation all about walking in polar bear country and how we keep everyone—including the wildlife—safe.

This orientation includes an explanation of our guides assess a bear’s demeanour, guidelines for conducting ourselves while out in the field among wildlife, and an explanation of the deterrents we use if a bear gets too…curious.

Bears have key behaviours and mannerisms that give our guides insights into their temperament and by observing the bear as we approach, they’re able to gauge how close we’ll get or whether it’s better to leave the bear alone.

Our rule of thumb is that we leave a minimum of 100 metres between us and a polar bear. The thing is, polar bears don’t get the same orientation our guests do, so sometimes their curiosity prompts them to move in for a closer look. When that happens, our guides have a series of escalating deterrents at their disposal to safely manage the encounter and ensure the bear is left with a positive lasting impression of us.

The first line of defense is verbal negotiation. Polar bears are used to a very quiet environment, so the sound of a human voice is foreign to them and can stop them in their tracks. Another minimally invasive deterrent is to lob a small rock or a snowball at the bear’s back end. Given the few inches of fat they have under their fur, this doesn’t hurt them.

Our guides also carry bear spray, starter pistols with “banger” and “screamer” shells and a shotgun.

By adhering to these strict protocols, we’ve been able to maintain a pristine safety record for more than 30 years and have become leaders in the field of ground-level polar bear tourism.

I can’t say enough about the wonderful experience you all provided. I felt safe and learned so much. Each of you contributed to my experience in special ways and I feel nothing but gratitude. Just know you are bringing joy and an appreciation of nature to people around the world.

Alide ChaseRichmond, CA
Warm welcome at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Ruth Elwell-Steck photo.