Sunday, November 28, 2021
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COP26: Picnic time for polar bears

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CANADIAN High Arctic: A load of horse feathers has been written about poor, suffering polar bears by newspapermen who don’t know squat. There’s no measuring the foolishness of some people who just can’t get their facts straight. It’s commonly believed that rats can’t survive up here in the Far North, but I reckon I’ve seen a lot of them creeping about with their notebooks and voice recorders. What I’m talking about is three-day ‘experts’ who twist things around to fit some idea of their own. They should label their stuff ‘fairy tales’ and not try to pass it off as the truth.

 Let’s set one thing straight. Polar bears are not a threatened species, they’re a threatening species. Bears now far outnumber Inuit in the North’s remote settlements, and folk live in fear of them. You have to understand that polar bears and Inuit have always been in competition for seals, so the two rivals are bound to bump into each other. To bears’ way of thinking, hunters are poaching their game and that makes conflict unavoidable. To them, a human being is just meat. I’ve read that a man tastes like hake, but bears aren’t fussy eaters and welcome a change in their diet. They seem quite partial to belly fat.

It used to give me a laugh, the posters stuck up in wildlife offices giving advice about what to do in a polar bear attack. One said, ‘Lie down. Play possum!’ The other said, ‘Fight back!’ When a bear is barrelling towards you like an express train in a cloud of ice and snow it’s not so funny. Firing a gun can make the bear even madder, as your bullets are likely to bounce off his skull. Even if you score a hit, bears have learned to play dead. Perhaps they read the posters. They wait until the hunter is close, then attack. The Inuit say, stand your ground and hurt his nose or around his eyes, and he’ll back off like any bully.

CBC and Nunatsiaq News, the local online paper, regularly report confrontations and sometimes deaths. One time I met Andrew Taqtu in Arctic Bay, a real pretty hamlet at the northern tip of Baffin Island, and he told me this story. Andrew and his grandfather were returning from a trip when their snowmobile broke down outside the settlement. They walked in to get a spare part and returned in a blizzard to see a bear clambering over their sled, sniffing for food. Right off they realised it would soon get their scent and might come for them. Trouble was, they were unarmed and their rifle was tied down on the sled.

Andrew recalled: ‘My grandfather said, “When I tell you, run to the sled, cut the rope, grab the gun and shoot the bear”.’ Andrew circled behind the bear, ran forward and cut the rope holding down the rifle. It parted with a loud pop. The bear swung around and let out a whoosh of surprise into the boy’s face. The bear’s breath frosted over Andrew’s snow goggles so he couldn’t see a thing. ‘I felt the gun being snatched from my hand. My grandfather poked it into the bear and fired. His second shot killed it.’

Ever since Greenpeace and the tree-huggers tried to shut down the fur trade, the hunting of seals and caribou has become pretty much a weekend activity. That’s a darn shame. A hang of a lot of subsistence hunters got thrown on to welfare and the heart went out of the business. Maybe the bears are missing human company, because more than ever are swaggering into town, looking for fights and free meals. Some people have come home to find a bear has taken up residence in their cabin. Next thing, they’ll be making porridge.

After liberating Iraq, President George W Bush had another cracker of an idea, to embrace polar bears as a threatened species needing protection. Canada’s 40,000 polar bears – that’s 60 per cent of the world stock – were already well protected, over-protected some would say, by the Wildlife Acts backed up by the courts and a strict hunting quota system in every Inuit community. But the damage was done. Bears were suddenly on death watch.

They say the camera doesn’t lie, but a lot of folk up here can tell you different. I expect you’ve seen pictures of polar bears ‘stranded’ on ice floes surrounded by open water. The message is that global warming is destroying the bears’ natural surroundings and soon they’ll all go belly-up. To millions of children and caring folk who don’t know better and see these photos, the bear is what they call an icon. An icon-trick, I call it. It’s pure baloney. Show those pictures to any Inuk, or Eskimo as we used to say, and they’ll tell you straight off that the ‘open’ water is frozen sea water. They both look the same in a certain light. The bears could walk off any time they chose. But photographers are getting rich selling this lie around the world. Phoney baloney, you see.

The growing bear population is kind of embarrassing for the global warming people, who’ve been predicting their extinction for years. So they’ve come up with a new explanation. Because the sea ice is thinner, they say, penetrating sunlight is producing more plankton, causing an explosion all along the food chain from krill to fish to seals, which are the bears’ main food source. Result: fatter bears and more bears. More horse feathers. The latest figures show the ice pack is more than two metres thick and extends as far as it did in 2014.

Most of the fake stories about suffering polar bears come from one place, the town of Churchill on Hudson Bay. The reason is simple. Unlike any of the northern communities, Churchill has a direct rail link to the south. So it’s cheaper for newsmen, TV crews and so-called scientists to base themselves in Churchill rather than fly 1,000 miles north to the polar bear heartland on Baffin Island. And the town has a population of bears that are always shown to be at death’s door because of melting ice. Some 500 miles outside the Arctic Circle, the town lies at the most southerly extreme of Canadian polar bears, where the melt begins early and lasts longer. In summer months they are short of food, like bears everywhere. But people forget polar bears hunt inland, too, and around Churchill there are populations of geese and caribou.

Polar bears are perhaps the most canny land predators. If they felt unsafe they would move somewhere else. Lean pickings in summer are a small price they pay for access to a million square miles of rich maritime hunting across Hudson Bay during winter. The other penalty is to be gawped at by the 100,000 tourists who travel to Churchill each year in the belief they are seeing a vanishing species. And of course their numbers have recently been revised upwards from 2,100 to 2,600.

Whoever said information is power turns out to be mistaken. Today power comes from disinformation, making everyone believe a lie. Small lies lead to bigger ones and then to corruption. If they have to tell lies about polar bears that local folk can see are plain wrong, it tells you a lot about the rest of the ‘green’ agenda. Why in tarnation are they doing it? The money? To prove themselves right? Or, most likely, because they really want the human race to go to blazes. To them who say different, I have a simple answer. Horse feathers!

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Old Timer
Old Timer is the alter ego of Stuart Wavell, a retired journalist who has travelled extensively in the Canadian Arctic.

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