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(2024 - Spring/Summer Issue)


In the frigid expanse of the Arctic, where ice and snow define the landscape, an intricate dance unfolds between humanity and one of its most iconic inhabitants—the polar bear. In the heart of this icy realm is Churchill, Manitoba, a town defined by the polar bears. It’s here that Polar Bears International’s Alysa McCall, who is the Director of Conservation Outreach and Staff Scientist for the non-profit group, aims to protect the bears and forge a coexistence with the community. Can an ecosystem of humans versus nature live in balance? Call it a harmony in the wild.

DS: What’s one of the main goals for Polar Bears International?

AM: It’s really to sustain a future for polar bears in the Arctic. If we want to keep polar bears in the Arctic, as the ice keeps melting, we must also support the people who now have to live with these hungry bears on land. Our future is tied to the future of polar bears. Everything we’re doing for the polar bear or asking people to do, asking our leaders to do, is to move to greener, cleaner energies. Yes, it’s for the polar bear, but ultimately, it’s for ourselves—our children, and our future generations. We’re closely tied together.

DS: Tell us about a memorable bear encounter.

AM: I was dropped off by helicopter in an area known for (polar) bears. As it flew away, the chopper startled a bear we didn’t see. The bear hesitated before advancing towards me, indicating it had no intention of preying on me, but it approached uncomfortably close. Luckily, another helicopter there filming saw what was happening, came between us, and moved that bear away. I’ve been lucky.

DS: Tell us about a bear project.

AM: Our maternal denning project in Svalbard, Norway, is focused on monitoring vulnerable moms and cubs as they emerge from their dens, helping us to learn more about this critical period in a polar bear’s life. We are also testing technologies to detect dens under the snow; such work could offer better protections for families as human activity increases in the Arctic.

DS: So in your view, can people and polar bears live together and coexist?

AM:I do think people and polar bears can coexist. As people in Churchill have learned over generations, the bears largely avoid conflict with us, but we also have a role to play when we share their land. We need to take steps to reduce encounters by reducing attractants. We can also make the encounters that happen safer for both people and polar bears by providing people with lots of education, offering training where necessary, supplying the right equipment (including more non-lethal options), and promoting a lot of respect both for the world’s largest land predators and the people increasingly living alongside them.

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