OTTAWA — Canadian hunting groups are loaded for bear after the sport hunting of polar bears got some bad international press this week.
A story in the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail reported that rich Chinese sportsmen were trophy hunting endangered polar bears in Canada’s Far North.
“It was very biased and misleading,” said Glen Williams, a wildlife consultant with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc in Iqaluit.
“Polar bears are not endangered in Canada; they are probably the best managed wildlife species in the country,” Williams said. “There’s millions of dollars spent each year doing surveys and population estimates on polar bears.”
Trophy hunting is when only a head, pelt or antlers are taken by a shooter, leaving the meat to rot and waste.
Williams says all of the polar bear is used, eaten and shared in the host village closest to the kill.
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“It’s food. We just had polar bear ribs for supper on Sunday,” said Williams, who says the taste and texture is similar to pork roast — with a bear flavour.
“You are legally required to hunt with a dog team; it’s not mechanized; you cannot hunt from an airplane; you cannot hunt from a snowmobile; and you have to go with an Inuk guide,” Williams said.
The hunting of polar bears is strictly controlled and monitored using a quota tag system in Canada, similar to elk tags or moose tags obtained by hunters every season.
Each Inuit community decides how they want to use their allotted tags, either leasing them to sport hunters or using them for sustenance. Young people who are employed as hunting guides raise their own dog teams and make their own incomes with sport hunts.
“In Nunavut, hunting is a part of everyday life,” said Steve Outhouse, director of communications to Minister Responsible for the North and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq. “When any hunt takes place, including a sport hunt, the meat from the animal is used to feed community members, no usable part of the animal goes to waste.”
Conservation groups continue to sound the alarm over the bears.
“Canada is home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, and the southernmost polar bear population lives here with you in Ontario, but not necessarily for long, unless something is done about it,” Richard Branson, a British billionaire and the founder of Virgin, told a Toronto press conference Tuesday. “Climate change and disappearing ice are forcing polar bears to go ashore earlier every year than they did the year before, preventing them from properly nourishing themselves.
“The southern populations especially, in Hudson Bay and Baffin, could vanish in 20 years unless current trends are reversed,” Branson said. “Many throughout Ontario are committed to their protection, including members of the First Nations, who have lived and interact with polar bears and understand the vital role of polar bears for the millenia.”
Williams, the wildlife consultant in Nunavut, says there is a lot of misinformation about polar bears.
“When I go south, I get approached by people who say ‘My goodness, you have actually seen a polar bear?'” he said. “There’s this belief that there are 10 left, and they are all on this one iceberg as it melts away and they are going to drown — and that’s not the case.”