Canadian police have shot and killed a polar bear that roamed a Quebec community hundreds of miles south of the species’ normal range, in an incident that experts say could become more common as coverage of the sea ice is becoming more unpredictable thanks to global warming.
The Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force, warned residents over the weekend that a polar bear had been spotted near the town of Madeleine-Centre – the first time the Arctic’s apex predator has been spotted in the community.
The bear is believed to have strayed from the pack ice north of the community, but would have had to swim across portions of the St. Lawrence River to reach the northern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
He was shot on Sunday morning – an outcome that experts said was inevitable.
“The moment I heard about the whereabouts of this bear I thought, ‘this is a dead bear,'” said Andrew Derocher, professor of biology at the University of Alberta. . “I was worried he would show up somewhere he shouldn’t be, cause a problem and get shot.”
Authorities sent drones and a helicopter to help locate the bear.
“We work with a lot of things, we work with moose, with deer, with black bears, with everything, but we’ve never had to deal with a polar bear,” commander Sylvain Marois told The Canadian Press. district officer at the Quebec Wildlife Protection Agency. .
Derocher, who has spent the past few weeks tracking polar bears on sea ice in Hudson Bay with his research team, said such encounters are extremely rare and difficult to plan.
“These bears have never been there before in modern history, so it’s not something I think wildlife agencies can be prepared for.”
In recent years, sea ice levels in the Arctic have become increasingly erratic and unpredictable – a harsh reality for polar bears, who depend on the vast expanse of ice for winter and spring food.
“We’re seeing more and more bears spending more time on land, including in places they’ve never been seen before,” said Geoff York, senior director of Polar Bears International. “The game is really hackneyed for polar bears – they have less consistency and variability. Things that may have worked for them in the past don’t work for them today.
Bears spending more time on land means the likelihood of community encounters only increases, Derocher said.
“I can’t draw a straight line between climate change and events like this. But in general… these events are happening more and more often. And we anticipate that they will become more common.
But successfully capturing and relocating a bear can cost tens of thousands of dollars and requires the right equipment, which Madeleine-Centre officials did not have access to.
While the shooting made headlines across the country, Derocher points out that First Nations and Inuit hunters hunt more than 500 polar bears every year.
“It’s a sustainable crop and we don’t really care about that. It may sound a bit insensitive, but this is a bear that walked into a place it couldn’t stay. There were too many risk issues.
Conservation officers could have waited hours for the necessary equipment – but the risk to the community was too great, York said.
“The last thing any of these conservation officers wanted to do was shoot a bear,” he said. “They’re just trying to keep people safe and ideally trying to protect wildlife when they can.