Only a couple of thousand people venture up to Churchill each year to see the wild polar bears congregate and wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze. The prime viewing season is October through November.
These magnificent animals look cute and cuddly, but they are at the top of the food chain. Male bears can weigh as much as 1300 pounds and stand at 10 feet tall. The safe way to see these bears is by riding in a tundra rover. Jacked up on huge tires, these vehicles are able to handle the rugged trails, traverse shallow ponds, and keep you safely elevated from any bears that come up to investigate. Some folks even live out on the tundra in special lodges so that they can watch the bears non-stop!
The Canadian government restricts the amount of tour operators and where the vehicles can travel in the Churchill Wildlife Management area. Our trip was arranged by Natural Habitat Adventures, the biggest polar bear tour operator in the travel business. They book with Great White Bear Tours for use of the rovers. One of the great things about Natural Habitat is that their tours are purposely kept small. Only 18 people maximum are loaded up in a vehicle, along with the tour director and driver. Everyone gets their own window seat! The vehicles were comfortable and equipped with a toilet (very important for all-day trips).
We were no different than all the other visitors. We hoped that our group would get to experience an up-close visit by a polar bear! We held our breath, crossed our fingers, and said our prayers. On our last day out in the rover, more bears were staying around the tundra lodge area, so that is where our driver headed. We had seen this bear hanging around the lodge a couple of days before the snow arrived.
We watched him for a while, and soon he stood up and closely investigated one of their viewing platforms! Could we ever be so lucky?
Remember the pair of two-year-old cubs? One of those youngsters decided to come over and see what we were all about! In the picture-taking frenzy that ensued, I was able to get a photo of him underneath our feet while we were standing out on the rover’s viewing platform.
Hubby was at the railing, but the bear got too close for his long zoom lens to focus. So I got to switch places and get next to the railing. The cub wandered about a little more and finally parked himself near the back bumper. When the bear started to sit back on his haunches, I was all ready for him to jump up on the back panel. And UP he came!
OK, we were all squealing like a bunch of silly children at this point. I was hanging over the side, snapping pictures as fast as I could. Would you take a gander at this furry foot?
After a short while, he decided to come over and give a personal hello to the crazy woman hanging over the side of the vehicle (me). I saw him coming up through my viewfinder and backed up a little bit to keep him in focus. Mercy, look at that wet nose!
This young rascal continued to put on quite a show for us. He was a bit frustrated that he couldn’t reach us, so he proceeded to chew on the wooden bumper, tearing off several good-sized chunks! It was a hoot!
He finally lost interest in us and wandered off to visit with another bear. He had done his part to add to our grand polar bear adventure! Thank you, Mister Bear!
There will be one final post for you in this series. I know that you won’t want to miss it!