Polar bear jail

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The polar bear jail in 2011.

Polar bear jail (also known as Polar Bear Holding Facility) is a special building in Churchill, Manitoba where polar bears that are considered troublesome or dangerous are isolated before they can be relocated.[1]


Before establishing the facility, polar bears who were considered dangerous used to be shot. In 1982[2] (according to other sources, in 1983, after a person was mauled by a bear on the street[3]) the holding facility was first established in the building officially named "House D-20". Before that, the facility was used as a military morgue, but now it is used for holding live polar bears.

The facility is the subject of the poem Churchill Bear Jail by Salish Chief Victor A. Charlo.[4]

Keeping the animals[edit]

Initially, the facility had 20 cells, which could hold 16 single bears and four family groups.[1] The bears could be held from two to 30 days - if a bear has been captured repeatedly the term may be extended.[3] The premise is that extended captivity would create a sense of danger for the bears so that they will be reluctant to approach the town. The bears are not fed during the captivity. Since bears' natural cycle involves long periods of fasting, their bodies are adapted to going without food for extended time.[5]

Dangerous bears are tranquilized when captured and are marked with a bright paint on the neck. Closer to the winter, when the ice in the Hudson bay has set, the bears are released. They are tranquilized again and transported by helicopter far from the town.[3]

Lately the jail was extended to 28 cells.[6] Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Churchill have to be careful outside. The outskirts of the city are said to be visited by about a thousand polar bears in the summer.[6] The reason is that with the ice gone they are unable to hunt their primary prey - seals - and, suffering from the hunger, they approach the town and threaten the inhabitants.

Also now on the Hudson bay shore and Churchill river there are signs warning "Polar Bear Alert",[3] and a person noticing a polar bear can call the designated number and the workers of the Department of Natural Resources will come out and catch the bear.


  1. ^ a b "Churchill Pictures: The Polar Bear "Jail"". www.bears.org. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  2. ^ James A., Wilkerson; Moore, Ernest E.; Zafren, Ken (2010). Medicine for Mountaineering: And Other Wilderness Activities. The Mountaineers Books. p. 323.
  3. ^ a b c d "Into the Wilds of the Canadian Arctic: On the Polar Bear Trail". 2016-03-04. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  4. ^ Harrison, Brady (2009). All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature. U of Nebraska Press. p. 30. ISBN 0803222777. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Complete Polar Bear Facts". 2014-05-30. Archived from the original on 2014-05-30. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  6. ^ a b "В канадском городе Черчилль расширяют тюрьму для белых медведей". newsmake.net (in Russian). Archived from the original on 2014-05-29. Retrieved 2018-04-28.