Surely one of the most iconic species of wildlife to inhabit Canada is the polar bear. Along with the beaver, moose, loon, eagle and wolf it is among the native wildlife species most often portrayed and easily identified by Canadians. But very few Canadians have seen one outside of zoos. Those who have are often eco-tourists who have made the trek to Churchill, Manitoba, on the west shore of Hudson Bay, which is an immense inland sea of 822,324 square kilometers (about 320,000 square miles). Polar bears move up and down that shoreline, their numbers often concentrated in and around the town of Churchill, in the province’s far northeast.
Few attacks against wildlife are more irrational and bloody than the effort being made in Canada and the United States to kill off large numbers of double-crested cormorants while they are nesting. In Canada, Born Free USA is one of several animal protection and conservation organizations that are founding members of Cormorant Defenders International (CDI), which is dedicated to the protection of cormorants and other waterbirds that nest in colonies from culls. Our focus has been the lower Great Lakes, where both the federal and provincial governments have instigated culling of many thousands of birds while they are nesting.
The American black bear is the most “successful” of the modern bears. Indeed, with a very roughly estimated population of about 900,000, there are something like three times more American black bears in the world than there are individuals of all other bear species combined.
An Environmental Risk Usually Ignored Is Identified
Some recently published research indicates that 75 percent of the zoos in Spain are at risk of having their animals escape, due to inadequate caging or barriers. The study was published in the scientific journal Biological Invasions, and divided the risk between those exhibits with inadequate containment and those where animals could escape “because the public could release them or remove them from their cages or tanks.” The concern of lead researcher Maria C. Fabregas and her team was specifically for the environment and conservation.
Government agents opened fire on the nesting birds. The birds panicked. Normally one or the other, if not both, parents would attend the nest, but with bullets slamming into some, others were forced to flee from what was, ironically, a bird sanctuary. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources had turned the “sanctuary” into a slaughterhouse.
On May 7, 2005, a letter to the editor appeared in the Toronto Star. It was written in response to an article about how the Canadian Travel Commission could not explain why Canada had fallen off the list of the top ten countries visited by tourists. “I think,” said the letter, “the answer may lie in Canada’s seal hunt. I’m sure that a little research will reveal the loss of literally tens of thousands of potential tourists who simply do not want to have anything to do with a country that shows such a barbaric disregard for animal welfare.”
It was a drizzly day in early August 2004. A small but industrious group was gathered on Marsh Hill Road, an unpaved country byway in central Ontario, northeast of the city of Toronto. Now and then, the odd driver who used the road slowed to glance at the unusual sight of about a dozen people, parked cars, a camera crew, and paraphernalia strewn about, including metal mesh, power tools, hammers, wooden posts, and an axe. Those driving by may have seen several men in waders standing in the dark water alongside the road, framed by dense, alder swampland. They probably had little idea that they were witnessing a life-saving operation.
Big-eyed baby seals. Men swinging heavy clubs. White ice stained crimson.
These are some of the indelible images so ubiquitous in 1970s and 1980s, the heyday of the global “save the seals” movement.
During those years, animal protection groups from around the world joined forces to fight the wanton slaughter of baby harp and hooded seals that took place each year on Canada’s northern ice floes. Pictures from the hunt sparked outrage and, eventually, a measure of reform.
Today, the images are back, more haunting than ever. That’s because the Canadian seal hunt is back, bigger and bloodier than before. And animal advocates have come together once again to fight the senseless, barbaric killing.