Walking With Wild Polar Bears

where do polar bears live

A mother & cub polar bear hunting for food. Photo: Pete Zaluzec

Where in the world do polar bears live. Well, out of 19 populations of polar bears throughout the Arctic Circle, 13 live in Canada with about 15,000 bears. So it is only appropriate we head to Churchill, Canada to see them for ourselves.

Where In Canada Do Polar Bears Live?

where do polar bears live

Churchill, Canada is known as the polar bear capital of the world.


Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world. So where do we go?

To Nanuk Lodge, one of the Churchill Wild lodges (also part of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World). The lodge is 100 miles from Churchill, Canada with no roads going in or out. Then how do you get there? In a very, very small plane. We are talking single engine with a pilot who looks like he has just graduated kindergarten.

So I was very happy when Dale offers to sit in the co-pilot seat since he used to land planes on aircraft carriers. What could go wrong I ask myself. Then I see the landing strip which is a crooked dirt strip of land in front of the lodge. Whohoo!

And to the pilot’s credit, he is a great pilot who flies us over numerous polar bears feasting on whale carcasses below. The trip is off to a good start!

where do polar bears live

Humans are the only predator of adult polar bears. Photo: Pete Zaluzec.

What Do You See In The Canadian Wilderness?

Where to begin. The vastness of the Arctic tundra changing its fall colors right before our eyes. Millions of snow & Canadian geese, moose crossing streams, black bears, bunny rabbits (more on that in a minute) and oh yes, a pack of 18 wolves frolicking on the dirt runway in front of our lodge.

And the stars & northern lights. While we only saw the northern lights the last night, we saw more stars than we thought possible. Think about it. No light pollution for over 100 miles! Just spectacular.

Is Walking With Polar Bears Safe?

where do polar bears live

Walking with a polar bear mom and cub at Nanuk Lodge in Canada.

But we have come to walk with the bears. Is it safe, I wonder? And the answer is yes.
Six of us ride out onto the tundra in open buggies with 2 guides and walk single file towards a bear. While the guides carry guns, they have never used them.
If we get too close to a curious bear, the guides have 3 rocks they bang together. Why 3 rocks? Well, if a bear gets really close, they throw a rock in the bear’s direction to distract it and still have 2 rocks left to bang on each other. Very smart.
Polar bear after polar bear lounge in the tundra waiting for the ice to come in November so they could have their first substantial meal. Most of the bears have not eaten for months so I keep hoping they don’t think we look very tasty. We do see some early diners gorging on washed-up beluga carcasses.

While walking the first day, a curious mother and cub approach us within 50 feet. Our guide makes some noise and talks to the mom just to reassure her we mean no harm. She and her cub casually wander off. My heart is racing. Fifty feet from 2 polar bears in the wild.  It doesn’t get much better.



The Wolves Are A Bonus!

where do polar bears live

A gray wolf checks us out in Canada. Photo: Jim Wright

Our best day, however, is not with the bears. On our second day, we decide to stay at the lodge & skip the afternoon outing. As soon as the group leaves in search of wildlife, 18 gray wolves show up at the lodge. Eight adults &  ten pups. OMG. Right in front of us on the dirt runway.


The animal exchanges were amazing. The rabbit (mentioned above) decides at just the wrong time to scoot in front of the wolf pack. Although a wolf springs into action and chases the rabbit, it gets away. Yea for the rabbit, sorry for the wolf.
If that isn’t exciting enough, a pregnant black bear confronts one of the wolves on the runway. They are less than 10 feet apart. The entire pack takes off after her, but she also manages to escape. A big sigh of relief.

Life On The Tundra

where do polar bears live

A glorious sunset at Nanuk Lodge.

Seeing so many healthy animals was heartwarming. We come away with hope for wildlife, at least in this part of the world where polar bears live.
And while our goal to see polar bears is achieved, we fall in love with wolves which will soon become our life’s mission to save all wolves, especially the red wolves.