Polar Bear Blog

What is ethical wildlife viewing?

Ethical wildlife viewing at Churchill Wild. Beatrice Jorns photo. Great Ice Bear Adventure. Dymond Lake Ecolodge.
Ethical wildlife viewing at Churchill Wild. Beatrice Jorns photo.

by Vanessa Desorcy

The stretch of Hudson Bay coastline on which we operate is pristine wilderness, home to wildlife such as polar bears, wolves, moose, black bears, and caribou. Harbor, ringed and bearded seals live in the adjacent waters where beluga whales come to feed and calve in the summer months.

It’s a relatively untouched corner of the world and we want to do everything we can to preserve it for future generations through sustainable operations and ethical wildlife viewing.

What is ethical wildlife viewing?

Ethical wildlife viewing means we don’t do anything to interfere with the animal’s normal behaviour or cause it stress. Practically speaking, this translates into a few key principles.

Travelling on foot

Conducting the majority of our wildlife viewing excursions on foot means we can be quiet and less intrusive when approaching a polar bear or other animals. It also means we leave a very small footprint (pardon the pun) on the tundra and taiga across which we trek.

Ground level polar bear viewing. Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Robert Postma photo.
Ground level polar bear viewing at Churchill Wild. Robert Postma photo.

Maintaining our distance

We never want to make a polar bear feel trapped or encroached upon, so when we’re out in the field, we keep a minimum distance of 100 metres. This keeps both us and the animal safe.

Minimizing noise

It’s not uncommon for bears to wander past our ecolodges or even curl up for a nap outside the fenced compound. Once we notice a bear approaching, we remind guests to move slowly and quietly around the lodge. Our lodges are elevated off the ground, so footfalls can be quite noisy if not controlled, which can spook a bear. Sudden movements seen through the windows or within the compound can also be startling. We also ask our guests to turn off camera sounds while photographing out in the field.

No drones

Drones can be a useful tool, but we don’t allow them to be used around the wildlife at our lodges. They’re a foreign visual and auditory stimulus that could agitate or cause stress to polar bears and other animals we encounter. They’re also distracting to other guests and we want all our visitors to have the same, high-quality experience.

Control over attractants

Churchill, Manitoba is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World due to the number of bears that congregate on nearby shores each fall, waiting for the sea ice to form. The confluence of people and bears could, in theory, lead to habituation of the bears, but Churchill has worked hard to minimize attractants that might bring polar bears into the community, which would endanger both the bears and the town’s residents.

Because our lodges are each a plane ride away from Churchill and there are no other properties or tour operators near our lodge locations, we have full control of attractants and can do even more to minimize them.

Polar bear outside compound at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.
Polar bear outside compound at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.

Never feeding the wildlife

We never feed nor coerce wildlife into certain behaviours with food. Feeding wildlife can lead to aggression or reliance on food provided by humans, which can be deadly.

Green operations

We are deeply committed to being ecofriendly and leaving the coastline in its natural state. We employ a wide range of sustainability initiatives at our ecolodges and are always looking for ways to add to or improve on them. This includes things like relying on solar power and greywater recycling, using biodegradable cleaning products and toiletries, and strict waste management policies.

Education

We want our guests to develop a deep appreciation for, and connection to, the wildlife and their habitat while they’re with us, so we use every opportunity to share our knowledge of the area. In the field, guides will point out and interpret behaviours of polar bears and other wildlife, identify local plant life, and speak to the geography and ecology of the region.

Evening presentations provide opportunities for more in-depth discussions on wildlife behaviour, our history, and the three distinct biomes of the area. It is a privilege to live in a place so biologically diverse, and we have an obligation to protect it by demonstrating respect and promoting conservation.

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