Manitoba conservation officers removed three polar bears from the Mile 5 Dog Sanctuary near Churchill, Manitoba last week after one of the bears attacked and killed a dog, Global News has learned.
That’s the same property where Churchill resident David de Meulles, a heavy duty mechanic and part-time tour guide with North Star Tours, recorded a polar bear appearing to affectionately pet a sled dog on the head this past Saturday.
“Those dogs draw bears, and that creates a problem if the bears don’t move on,” a spokesperson for Manitoba Sustainable Development told Global News. “So Conservation officers were forced to move the bears to our holding facility.”
But de Meulles told Global News Friday that he was “sickened” by the implication that the visit by Conservation officials had anything to do with the video he recorded, or that the dog which was killed is the same one recorded in his video.
“That dog is still alive,” de Meulles said, referring to the dog being pet in the video. “Different bear, different dog. It has nothing to do with what I [recorded]. I don’t appreciate it. It’s sickening.”
On Saturday, de Meulles was offered a shift working North Star’s “Canadian Eskimo Husky Dog Kennel and Polar Bear” tour, which promises tourists a sightseeing experience on the Canadian Eskimo Husky sanctuary operated by Brian Ladoon.
De Meulles says he was driving the North Star tour bus through the sanctuary Saturday afternoon, observing three polar bears on the property, when he spotted the largest of the three approach one of Ladoon’s Huskies.
“He walked right towards that dog, and I figured ‘well, I better bust out my camera and see what’s about to take place,’” de Meulles said.
“I started recording, and the bear sat down, and sure enough he started petting that dog just like a human would pet a dog.”
So what happened after he stopped recording?
When asked about whether the bear had been “baited” into the encounter with the dog, de Meulles said “absolutely not.”
“There is no baiting whatsoever because it is 100 per cent illegal,” de Meulles said. “Brian Ladoon doesn’t believe in doing that.”
He believes Ladoon’s sanctuary is simply misunderstood by people unfamiliar with the reality of his situation.
“A lot of people think what he does is crazy,” de Meulles said. “But I mean, he gets up every day, same time, he devotes his life to those dogs. Twelve hours a day, seven days a week.”
“A lot of people complain too that they’re on a leash, they shouldn’t be kept like that. But how are you going to look after that many dogs? He doesn’t have a big warehouse. He just has exactly the way those dogs [are supposed] to grow up: on the land. People try to say they’re not happy. I disagree. That’s their life, they love it, that’s all they know.”
The town of Churchill is famous across Canada for its polar bear population, making it a popular tourist destination.
November is one of the peak seasons for polar bear activity in the region, as thousands of bears gather on the peninsula upon which the town was built to await the freezing of Hudson’s Bay.
According to Manitoba Sustainable Development, wildlife officials receive approximately 300 calls a year from residents regarding polar bear activity in the city. Of these, some 45 bears are transported each year to the city’s Polar Bear Holding Facility, where they are kept until just before the ice in Hudson Bay freezes.
At that point, the bears are tranquilized and flown via helicopter some 70 kilometres north of the city, where they are released back in the wild. Since bears naturally migrate west and north of the city as the ice freezes, this is the direction the bears would naturally travel.