Polar Bear Holding Facility in Manitoba Ready For Upcoming Season

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The final round of structural upgrades to the holding facility for polar bears that persistently wander into the northern coastal town of Churchill is now complete, Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie announced.

"Polar bears that make their way back into the community after being chased away need to be isolated in the facility until they can be safely transported out of town or until Hudson Bay ices over," said Blaikie. "The holding facility provides safety for both the people of the north and these magnificent animals."

The end walls of the building have been refitted with metal siding and a new kiosk has been built with a display outlining facts about the bears, polar bear management in Manitoba, the bear alert program and polar bear safety.

Reports indicate polar bears came off the ice very early this season. As of July 20, almost all of the bears were off the ice along the Hudson Bay coastline. This year's preliminary survey results showed an unusually high number of polar bears north of Churchill, especially in the Hubbard Point area approximately 90 kilometres south of the Nunavut-Manitoba border. All polar bears sighted appeared to be in very good condition. A total of 258 bears were counted in the recent "ice out" survey, which occurs each year when the polar bears first come off the ice from Churchill to the Ontario border.

Polar bear alert staff were busy in the latter part of July dealing with the spike of activity that normally happens after the polar bears come ashore.  Polar bear events have slowed down for the last few weeks. Activity is expected to pick up again in late October and November.

Last season, the Polar Bear Alert Program recorded almost 300 occurrences in the Churchill area and close to 60 bears were captured and held in the facility.  The holding facility is located about eight kilometres east of Churchill.

The year's project builds on previous improvements to modernize the facility. In 2005, the province funded improvements to the roof and side walls. New holding cells and the installation of a cooling system for bears held in warmer weather were added in 2006. The electrical system was also fully upgraded in 2008.

Polar bears are the largest land carnivore in the world, although the bears are often thought to be marine mammals. The compound has dealt with adult males that have weighed as much as 670 kilograms.