In case you missed it, the internet fell head over heels for this polar bear gently petting a husky in Churchill, Canada last week, because animals petting other animals is kind of the best.
But if something in nature seems too good to be true, it probably is, because life in the wild is brutal, relentless, and about as cute as a blood-soaked penguintrying to steal your lady.
Case in point: just hours after this footage was released, that very same polar bear ate another dog alive.
“That was the only day we didn’t feed the f–king bears, the only night we didn’t put anything out,” Churchill resident Brian Ladoon told Bryce Hoye at CBC News.
Ladoon, who runs the Mile 5 Dog Sanctuary in Churchill, regularly feeds the polar bears in the area to try and dissuade them from picking off his dogs for their meal.
But the very same day that the footage of the polar bear petting one of the chained-up dogs was released, another dog was eaten, and the consequences are going to be extremely dire for polar bears in the area.
“Conservation officers had to immobilise a bear in that area last week and move it to the holding facility because it killed one of his dogs,” a Manitoba Sustainable Development spokesperson told CBC News.
“A mother and cub were also removed because there were allegations the bears were being fed and the females’ behaviour was becoming a concern.”
As you might have guessed, deliberately feeding wild polar bears is highly illegal, as the Manitoba Endangered Species and Ecosystem Act states, “No person shall kill, injure, possess, disturb, or interfere with an endangered species, a threatened species, or an extirpated species that has been reintroduced.”
At this stage, it’s not clear if Ladoon will be fined for the practice, but the polar bears will likely suffer, because if they’ve grown accustomed to being fed, they could become extremely dangerous now that officials have stepped in to put a stop to it.
“It’s basically a death sentence for the bears,” Ian Stirling, an expert on Arctic and Antarctic ecology from the University of Alberta, told CBC News.
As it turns out, Ladoon is a highly controversial figure within his community, and admits to feeding the bears for decades to try and protect his dogs.
For almost half a century, Ladoon has been at the forefront of conservation efforts to save the endangered Canadian Eskimo Dog, and says illegally feeding the polar bears is the only way to ensure their safety.
“I was tired of the bloodbath,” he told Kelsey Eliasson at Up Here.
Before the dogs found a home at Mile 5, Ladoon was breeding the dogs in a cottage near Churchill, but the polar bears started “swarming” the property, and he says local officials ignored his pleas for help.
“Ladoon asked the government if he could take over a parcel of Crown land beside Hudson Bay,” Eliasson reports. “He got no response. So the next bear he shot, he cut off its head and mailed it to the natural resources office in Winnipeg.”
As a result, Ladoon was granted access to Mile 5.
While Ladoon’s conservation work with the dogs is surely valuable, people have taken issue with the fact that he ties his dogs up – something that’s led to the deaths of several dogs over the years, including the one last week.
“The dog was chained up and they’re totally vulnerable,” Stirling told CBC News.
“Inuit [hunters] over the years in the high Arctic have told me that if you want a dog to act as a guard dog, you have to leave it off a chain. Because if it’s on a chain it knows it’s vulnerable and it won’t bark.”
For our part, we need to stop anthropomorphising wild animals, because what was hailed as some strangely chill behaviour from the polar bear was more likely it playing with its food.
And not being able to tell the difference between the two could be seriously dangerous, not just for dogs, but for people living in the vicinity of these apex predators, whose numbers are now dwindling before our eyes.
“We see them through the heavy filter of our own feelings, our own needs,” Robert Krulwich writes over at NPR.
“Animals who’d once been proud and vicious had become ‘delicate, drowning’ victims, lonely animals – who now just might need the companionship of a friendly husky – who might come to a backyard, looking for a hug.”
We’re never going to see this ‘delightful romp’ the same way again: