About 150 miles north of Churchill, Manitoba—the self-proclaimed “polar bear capital of the world”—lies the sleepy town of Arviat in Nunavut. Arviat is true polar bear territory, and residents are considering an unorthodox move this Halloween. According to the CBC, Arviat residents have canceled traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating this year. That is because polar bear encounters in the community have increased dramatically in recent years. Just last month, one bear attacked and killed a sled dog within the town’s boundaries, and in 2010 alone there were seven bears killed by residents in self-defense.
“Picture 1,200 kids going door to door in Arviat in the middle of polar bear season,” said local leader Steve England. “It’s a pretty obvious conclusion of what tragedies could come out of that. We’re just trying to safeguard the younger population by offering an alternative.”
That alternative is holding the Halloween celebration in the community hall and other indoor spaces. This may be especially prudent because October is at the height of the three-month polar bear migration, when the animals move north for the season. Traffic from migrating bears has gotten so bad that the town decided to hire a polar bear monitor, Leo Ikakhik, several years ago. Ikakhik works a midnight shift and helps ward off any bears brazen enough to enter the town. This is usually done with fireworks and a few rubber bullets. Just earlier this month Ikakhik was called out to deal with a mother bear and her cubs harassing a sled dog team.
“Sometimes there were some tense moments,” Ikakhik told Nunatsiaq Online, “because when we got close enough the mother started charging at us and we’re only on ATVs.”
It took the watchman a full box of firecrackers to distract the bears from the dogs, and a rubber bullet in the mother’s rear before the bears retreated northwards. Sled dog teams are the usual target for bears because they are generally carrying seal meat, a polar bear’s favorite food. In the past decade, several dogs have been killed as a result of a opportunistic bears, yet fortunately no humans were injured.
Town officials aim to keep it that way.