November 9, 2005

Group invites kids on virtual polar bear visits

By Scott Reycraft

TORONTO (Reuters) - Scientists are inviting schoolkids
around the globe to visit with Canadian polar bears in a series
of Internet video conferences from the self-styled Polar Bear
Capital of the World.

The schools project is one of a several organized by
conservation group Polar Bears International, which is based in
the northern Canadian city of Churchill, Manitoba, on the
shores of Hudson Bay.

The group also funds school visits by scientists to talk
about the bears. Its Web site
( includes a polar bear
Web cam with real-time pictures of the big white carnivores.

"It's quite rewarding to see the kids light up and really
change their lives," Polar Bears International President Robert
Buchanan said of the video conferences, where students can
speak to scientists and watch bears via the Web cam.

Almost 1,000 children took part in the program last year.

Buchanan said the program's main goal is to help children
develop an awareness of the world around them.

"The polar bear is really an alarm system for man," he said
from Churchill on Wednesday, noting that polar bear populations
have declined alarmingly as warmer weather melts the ice where
they live and hunt.

"Most people don't realize what happens up here affects
their world. We're losing about one percent of the population a
year because of the loss of shelf ice."

Churchill has a population of about 1,000. During the
migration season, when the bears move to the ice to hunt for
seal, there are an estimated 900 polar bears around town, and
camera-toting tourists take fat-wheeled tundra buggies out on
bear safaris.