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Polar Bear in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Through a partnership program with Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation organization committed to studying and protecting polar bear populations in the wild, a Brookfield Zoo bear keeper is back on frozen tundra…and that’s fine with her. Christy Mazrimas-Ott has returned to Churchill, Manitoba for the second year in a row to serve as a guest lecturer aboard the Tundra Buggies--the famed vehicles that serve tourists. Mazrimas-Ott has over 15 years of experience as a polar bear keeper.

This time around, Christy will post regular dispatches and images (see slideshow below) from Churchill, detailing her day aboard the Tundra Buggies, where she discusses polar bear natural history as well as conservation and research efforts for polar bears.

Oct. 13, 2009
It was my first day out on the Tundra Buggies since last November. There is a dusting of snow on the ground, the temperature is in the upper 20s, and there’s a strong wind with snow flurries on and off. We have 12 guests on the buggy today from England, Ireland, and Australia. Rick Madsen is the buggy driver and I’m one of the In-Field Ambassadors, along with Sarah Bachman from the Indianapolis Zoo. It’s the beginning of the season and the polar bears haven't made it to the coast yet.

Our first sighting of a polar bear was at the Tundra Buggy Lodge; he is known as the "Golden Bear" because of his coloring. He’s been hanging out at the lodge and that guarantees you seeing at least one polar bear! “Golden Bear” was sitting near another Tundra Buggy for awhile then decided to hunker down in the willows to take a nap, conserve energy and get out of the wind. We also saw two other polar bears from a further distance: one was too far away walking along the willows on the coast and the second was very skittish and didn't like the Tundra Buggy, so it moved away as we got closer.

The polar bears in Churchill were very lucky this year because the spring ice break-up didn't occur until late July/early August which gave them a longer time to hunt ring seals than the past few years which is great for the Churchill polar bears. However, this summer the ice shrinkage in the Arctic was the third largest since it was first recorded in 1979. It’s already colder here now than when I came out here last year…so hopefully that's a good sign that Hudson Bay will start forming grease ice and freeze over so the polar bears can go out and eat once again. The polar bears haven't eaten since they've come ashore three months ago and they’re hungry, which is why they're constantly resting and conserving energy. Hopefully, we'll see more polar bears, foxes, ptarmigans, or arctic hares tomorrow.

- Christy Mazrimas-Ott
Polar Bear Int'l-Oct 13