Canadian police shot and killed a polar bear on Sunday, May 2, in Madeleine-Center, Quebec, a small town less than 300 miles from the US/Canada border. It was the first time the apex predator has been observed in the wild so far south in North America.
Over the weekend, the provincial police had gone door to door, warning residents to stay inside while they investigated unconfirmed reports of a polar bear wandering near an old airport. Officials conducted an aerial search for the animal via helicopter and drone. Dominique Berteaux, a biologist and professor at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, told the CBC he wasn’t surprised to hear a polar bear had found its way to that part of the province.
Berteaux explained that some polar bears spend the winter on the east coast of Labrador, moving north when the ice pack begins to break up. But sometimes they can get lost. This polar bear may have swum down to Quebec through the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Berteaux added that polar bears are excellent swimmers and have been known to swim several hundred miles.
Unfortunately, successfully capturing and relocating a polar bear would have cost tens of thousands of dollars and required specialized equipment. Instead, local officials euthanized the bear. “The last thing one of these conservation officers wanted to do is put down a bear,” Geoff York, senior director at Polar Bears International, told The Guardian. “They’re just trying to keep people safe, and ideally trying to keep wildlife safe when they can.”
While the story has made headlines worldwide, Andrew Derocher, a professor of biology at the University of Alberta, told The Guardian that the shooting of polar bears is not particularly uncommon in Canada, where Inuit and First Nations hunters harvest more than 500 polar bears each year. “It may sound a bit callous, but this is a bear that got into a place where it couldn’t stay,” he said. “There were too many risk issues.”
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York predicted that due to climate change, polar bears will continue showing up in locations outside of their normal range. Polar bears are classified as marine mammals and typically spend the majority of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. According to the World Wildlife Fund, polar bears are threatened not only by climate change but also by habitat loss due to increased oil production in the Arctic.