Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Thursday 11th November- Ethical Concerns

Today started earlier than usual- eight of us from the main group had opted to take a Tundra Buggy Trip (although I had only had four hours' sleep the excitement meant I had no difficulty getting ready in time). This is the 'normal' option for tourists in Churchill to view bears, not driving round in a clapped out school bus. I discovered for myself today that there are sound reasons for Great Bear's reluctance to recommend these tours.

We were transferred by bus to the buggy and spent the entire day until sunset out on the tundra. It has to be said that the actual viewing was sensational, and I was actually in tears on my first encounter, as I felt so privileged to look into the eyes of a bear at close quarters. Wildlife photography is one of my main interests and we saw numerous bears including large males, cubs, and several females. I cannot deny that there were moments of pure ecstasy and for a time this morning I felt more exhilarated and happier than I can remember. I feel a real connection with these magnificent creatures and their vulnerability is so poignant. However, I write now with real sadness, concern, and anger.

The principle of minimising tourism's impact on the bears and ecosystem has been abandoned in favour of profit. Here are some examples which I witnessed today:

  • Around midday, a bear was sighted, and just as all of the tourists opened the windows of the buggy in order to take photographs, the organisers decided to serve lunch of beef soup. This resulted in a bear coming right up to the buggy, and I have to admit that some of the best photographs I took today resulted from this. However, it has the effect of conditioning bears to food. The inevitable result is that bears approach people, are labelled as problems, and action has to be taken to destroy them. This is pure exploitation and I feel so angry that commercial motives are allowed to undermine the bears' welfare.
  • One of my fellow Great Bear passengers on the buggy today remarked that they 'did everything they said they wouldn't do'. He meant that they paid lip service to responsible practice and yet in reality showed insufficient respect for the Churchill ecosystem. There were instances of an employee shouting at the bears to try to encourage them to come to the buggy. I also saw other buggies coming right up to ours so that employees could exchange comments in loud voices. This is not 'zero impact' ecotourism.
  • The Buggies are supposed to stay on established trails, however both our own and a number of buggies from another company decided to drive across the tundra in an attempt to take a 'short cut' or in order to get closer to the bears. This leads to even greater damage to the tundra and plant life.
  • I have already remarked that I was so moved by my encounters with bears today. I am sure that others felt the same, some of whom may have come to Churchill with little prior understanding of the challenges facing the Arctic. There was a captive audience of 20 people, and surely a golden opportunity to provide a commentary which they would inform them about what they were seeing. Instead, with the exception of a short talk at the end  of the day, the atmosphere was geared towards entertainment instead of respect for nature.
  • An example of this is that a number of the group were given turns driving the tundra buggy. Quite apart from safety concerns this reduced the experience to that of a game show in my opinion.
One of the reasons that I have enjoyed this trip so much, and will be returning as soon as I can, as that I have felt in company of some like minded people who share a liberal outlook, a belief that it is possible to change the world in some way or another, and a respect for the natural world. I ended up in the company of about half a dozen others in the kitchen last night for whom I have enormous respect and affinity. In contrast, today I was uncomfortable: the ethos established by the buggy company was morally questionable.

I see using food smells to attract bears is morally not far removed from Ladoon feeding bears with dog food. It makes me even angrier though as it is on a far larger scale involving highly profitable commercial concerns.

I realised today that this trip was about a vital cause. The question is what can be done, and I will attempt to address this in the last entry of my blog.

Bears have to do it too!

Tundra buggy hotel- I question the impact this has on the ecosystem

Buggies crowding a bear

Off the trail

1 comment:

  1. Wow what an exceptionally well written and interesting viewpoint about the ethical concerns of the polar bear trips and the Tundra. The photography is so professional and I feel I can touch them!