A polar bear that ventured into a residential area in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula this weekend prompting a public safety alert has been shot dead, authorities said on Sunday.
The Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police, said they were first called to the town of Madeleine-Centre on Saturday morning after residents reported seeing a polar bear near their homes.
Sophie Bonneville, owner of the local café in Grande-Vallée, said her husband was taking their dog on a morning walk when a polar bear appeared less than 30 metres from their home.
“It was my dog, Boris, who saw the bear first,” Ms. Bonneville said, adding that the dog was so frightened he tried to run toward their family’s barn.
“The bear didn’t move for a couple seconds, and then he turned to come back in the woods,” she said.
Sylvain Marois, southeast district commander with the province’s Wildlife Protection Agency, said a game warden team and a rescue team were involved in the search as well as a helicopter and several drones.
Mr. Marois said the bear was finally located at 8:15 a.m. on Sunday after a report of a sighting just off of Route 132 in Madeleine-Centre. About 15 minutes later, the polar bear was dead.
“We’re not proud of that kind of thing,” said Mr. Marois. He said his team can safely neutralize and transport smaller bears such as black bears, but polar bears are a different story.
“A bear like this can run until 60, 70 kilometres per hour, and they’re really aggressive,” he said.
Mr. Marois said polar bears have occasionally been spotted in coastal regions on Quebec’s Lower North Shore and in areas such as James Bay, but not on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.
Polar bears live on Arctic sea ice, only opting to live on land during Canadian summers, when the sea ice melts, said Alysa McCall, a staff scientist with Polar Bears International. But she said polar bear sightings could become more frequent as more Arctic sea ice is lost to climate change.
“This is, of course, of great concern to Canadians because we have two-thirds of the world’s polar bears and we have many, many small coastal communities, some of which have never even seen polar bears in the past, but now might be seeing some in the future,” she said.
Polar bears, she said, are mobile animals, which means they’re bound to end up in unexpected places. But whether the polar bear spotted in Quebec this weekend “got turned around and maybe followed its nose to the wrong place or not, this is absolutely an unusual place to see a polar bear,” she said.
Safely removing and transporting polar bears back to their habitat is no easy task.
A polar bear trap can cost upward of $10,000, and the costs of lethal and non-lethal deterrents and helicopters to properly surveil bears can add up quickly. Cities such as Churchill, Man., which are famous in Canada for their polar bear populations, are more likely to have the funding, resources and trained professionals to safely remove polar bears from public spaces.
But Ms. McCall said it wouldn’t be fair to expect smaller communities to have the equipment or the money at their disposal to safely entrap polar bears at a moment’s notice.
“Non-lethal options are great, but ultimately, of course, human life comes first and foremost,” she said. “One thing that needs to happen in the coming years is broader support for these communities with more options on how to deal with polar bears.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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