Winnipeggers got the chance to meet the two newest residents at the Assiniboine Park Zoo Friday, but not everyone is happy they are here.
As the pair of orphaned polar bear cubs made their debut, the zoo also announced their names, which were selected by popular vote.
Say hello to Baffin and Willow.
PHOTO GALLERY: view images of Willow and Baffin at play
The bears, one male and one female who are not related, arrived at the zoo in early December after being found orphaned in Churchill.
With the addition of the cubs, the zoo is now home to 11 polar bears.
WATCH: video footage of the two cubs playing in their enclosure Jan. 26.
While the two new cubs settle into their new home at the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre at the zoo, Churchill residents are sounding an alarm.
People from the beleaguered Manitoba community have told the province it is time to start leaving the bears where they were born — in the north. While Churchill is the polar bear capital of the world, each year, more wild bears end up in captivity at the Winnipeg zoo’s conservation centre.
“I’m a little bit emotional about the subject,” Mark Reynolds said.
Reynolds, an artist from the northern community, said his artwork is an expression of frustration over the number of bears being relocated.
“They use the words ‘orphan bears’ – like if a child got separated from its parents at Walmart we wouldn’t call that child and orphaned child.” Reynolds said.
“Not only are they taking the bears from here, they’re also calling the zoo exhibit ‘Journey to Churchill.’ How do you think that makes people feel that live in Churchill?”
In the past five years, 11 bears have been removed from Churchill and brought to the International Polar Bear Conservancy at the zoo.
Each bear, a young orphan who researchers said would have had no chance of survival otherwise.
“When we see them, they are usually about 11 or 12 months old,” Head of Conservation and Research Dr. Stephen Peterson said. “Under no evidence have we seen them surviving on their own under 16 months.”
Manitoba Conservation said they do extensive research to deem whether or not a cub is an orphan before considering removing it from the wild and bringing it to Winnipeg.
“They do extensive searches, sometimes including aerial surveillance to see if there is an adult female nearby,” a spokesperson with Conservation said in an email. “They may make attempts to push the cubs near an adult female – but if they do not appear to recognize or acknowledge each other, that is a pretty good indication they are not related.”
The Minister of Sustainable Development recently flew to Churchill to meet with town officials.
They are hoping to work together to determine if it may be possible to use tracking devices on some cubs in the future. However, every decision is made on a case by case basis.