Grizzlies Encroaching on Polar Bear Country

Cubs at Risk

Although not quite as far north, other grizzlies have been spotted on Victoria Island just south of Melville, despite the fact that recent scientific literature suggests that grizzlies were limited to mainland Canada and had not crossed dozens of miles across sea ice to reach the islands.

But, Doupé notes, it's not clear at this point if grizzlies are moving north, or if more are being seen because more researchers are venturing into that region, believed to be rich with mineral resources.

"Was it just an observer effect," he asks, or are the big brown bears really moving north? And if so, why?

No one knows yet, but it could be that substantial increase in human habitation to the south is convincing the bears to head for safer ground. And Doupé says global warming may be making it possible for the grizzlies to extend their range to the north, something the polar bears clearly don't need.

Especially the young ones.

Grizzlies, like polar bears, like to dine on bear cubs, regardless of their shading. The carcasses of polar bear cubs have been found in grizzly dens, he says.

Elsewhere in Canada, grizzlies have shown an adaptability to life in the far north. They have learned how to hunt seals on the ice and behave pretty much like polar bears.

But if they've decided to make Melville Island their home, they've picked a pretty tough place to live.

There has been no human settlement for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found sites where paleo-Eskimos lived a long time ago, but they moved south in search of an easier life, no doubt.

The land is barren except for an occasional low-lying shrub and patches of grass and wildflowers. There are no trees. The temperature rarely climbs above freezing.

When Doupé and England were there last July, it snowed.

There is precious little there to sustain life of any sort. What could possibly have convinced grizzlies to move in?

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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