That Story of a Polar Bear Petting a Dog Just Took a Dark Turn

Gif: Gizmodo

Remember that heartwarming video from a few days ago showing a dog as it was being petted by a giant polar bear? In a twist that comes as a surprise to no one, a polar bear had to be immobilized last week after it killed and ate a dog from the same sled pack.

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Brian Ladoon, who runs the 5 Dog Sanctuary in Churchill, Manitoba, told CBC News that he spotted nine bears near the area where he keeps his dogs chained up, and that one of these bears killed and ate one of his dogs. “That was the only day we didn’t feed the fucking bears, the only night we didn’t put anything out,” he exclaimed.

A spokesperson from Manitoba Sustainable Development corroborated Ladoon’s account, telling the CBC that “Conservation officers had to immobilize a bear in that area last week and move it to the holding facility because it killed one of his dogs,” adding that “A mother and cub were also removed because there were allegations the bears were being fed and the females’ behavior was becoming a concern.”

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In Manitoba, it’s illegal to feed polar bears because they’re listed as an endangered species. Undaunted, Ladoon said he takes “care of bears” and admits that he’s been “charged with everything... under the book.”

Ian Stirling, a professor at the University of Alberta, told the CBC that Ladoon shouldn’t be allowed to chain his dogs outside in polar bear territory, and that the killer bear was likely “thin and hungry.” According to Inuit hunters, dogs will only act as guard dogs when they’re not chained up, because if they’re on a chain they know they’re vulnerable to an attack.

Stirling characterized the practice of feeding polar bears as a “death sentence,” saying that friendly relationships between dogs and polar bears can only lead to disaster. “Any situation that brings bears in to feed in an unnatural situation in association with human beings, I think, should not take place at all,” he told the CBC.

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George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

matthew-phelan
Matthew Phelan

RadioLab’s Robert Krulwich did an interesting piece on Brian Ladoon a few years back.

TL;DR. There’s a lot of context here that people viscerally concerned about these dogs might want to digest before they overreact. Ladoon has been trying to keep a delicate peace between these polar bears, and the dogs in his charge—which are an endangered breed, the Canadian Eskimo Dog—for decades.

The full story is complicated, and on balance still pretty uplifting, I would argue.

Ladoon partnered with the Eskimo Dog Research Foundation (EDRF) to increase the population of the breed back in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, “the EDRF was founded in 1972 by William Carpenter and John McGrath and was largely funded by the Canadian Government and the Northwest Territories Government, with some support from the CKC.” Currently, Ladoon’s efforts have preserved “the largest genetic stock colony of Canadian Eskimo Dogs in the world.”

Here is an account of a tragic incident (similar to but worse than this recent one), dating all the way back to mid-1990s, as related by Outdoor Photographer Magazine, [at least, according to where I found it at bear.org, the North American Bear Center’s website, anyway]:

In October 1996, a polar bear ran amok through Brian Ladoon’s remote sled dog camp eleven miles outside Churchill. It killed 6 dogs, ate two, and wounded 12 more.

Actions of game wardens precipitated the attack. Wardens knowingly thwarted Ladoon’s novel strategy that had saved countless bears and dogs. Instead of shooting bears, Ladoon allowed natural play between the bears and dogs. Only occasionally did he usher rare bad actors out of camp to the tune of shotgun cracks. Dominant bears accustomed to his dogs usually performed that task on their own.

The tragedy began after a group attempted to visit Ladoon’s camp to see the bears and dogs. Their vehicle became stuck in snow. A polar bear lay down and went to sleep thirty feet away. A game warden “rescued” the celebrities and informed Ladoon that he had put visitors at risk. Twelve officials and a helicopter soon appeared at Ladoon’s camp and removed five large bears that were friendly to his dogs.

Ladoon worried that without them his camp would be “open to every meandering bear that comes through.” He kept a daytime vigil in near-zero temperatures and 30 mph winds.

The carnage began in total darkness while Ladoon was in town. A bear ignored meat set out as a deterrent and attacked the dogs, eating one. The next morning, Ladoon came upon five dead and eleven wounded dogs. The next night, two more dogs were attacked and another one eaten. The next day, Ladoon shot an adult male polar bear.

Ladoon said the game wardens should have “respected that I’ve been dealing with bears without problems for over twenty years.”

Before the incident, only four of his dogs had died from bear interactions in 23 seasons. None was attacked or eaten. Ladoon believes all four prior incidents were a result of bears becoming entangled in the dogs’ chains and accidentally breaking the dogs necks in their attempts to get free.

In other words, one way of looking at it is that this guy has created a—mostly peaceful—little ecosystem for nearly half a century, that is preserving an endangered breed of dog, in more-or-less exactly the correct and humane way faithful to how the Eskimos had originally bred them to live.