A nice polar bear out for a walk

Polar bear early-warning system goes live in Canada

Image credit: Hensoldt | Adobe Stock

A pilot project in Canada dedicated to the protection of polar bears, a threatened animal species, is now under way with the help of a German sensor company.

Sensor solutions company Hensoldt - based in Taufkirchen, Germany - has made its technology available for the protection of threatened species. The company has signed an agreement with the charitable organisation Polar Bears International to initiate a pilot project featuring a sensor-based early warning system that alerts people to the imminent arrival of polar bears in human settlements, thus giving those communities more notice and time to mitigate negative interactions.

The pilot project, called 'Polar Bear Warning Radar' (PoWR), will be operated by Polar Bears International in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada - the 'Polar Bear Capital of the World' - on the shores of Hudson Bay.

Polar bears live on the surface of the Arctic sea ice where they travel, mate, sometimes den and hunt ringed and bearded seals, their main prey. In the Hudson Bay region, climate warming is causing sea ice to melt earlier in the summer and freeze later in the autumn, forcing polar bears to fast on land for ever-longer periods. As a result, polar bears in this region of the Arctic are spending approximately one month longer on land, without access to their main food sources.

As a consequence of these longer fasting periods, polar bears are coming into human communities more often in search of food. Many communities have wildlife managers, who rely on people seeing polar bears and notifying them so that actions can be taken to protect both community members and the polar bears. However, visual observations are limited, especially at night and during storms.

The 'Polar bear Warning Radar' system comprises a ground surveillance radar combined with a camera, allowing for detection of bears at distances of up to five kilometres. The combination of radar with a camera adds significant advantages with all-weather operation, precise location and identification at long distances.

“This technology works day and night, in all weather conditions, giving community members the tools they need to stay safe, so that we can protect polar bears, as well as people.” said Sarah Sterzl, group sustainability officer, Hensoldt, and project manager of PoWR. “The project fits perfectly into our mission to protect not only the society, but also our planet. Polar Bears International staff and scientists are renowned experts in this field, so we are proud to partner with them on this project.”

Geoff York, senior director of conservation, Polar Bears International, said: “We are pleased to work with Hensoldt on developing this important technology. Innovation and creative uses of technology are key to on-the-ground conservation efforts. It’s important that we develop tools to protect people and polar bears while society advances action to address climate warming.”

Hensoldt is a familiar name within Germany's defence industry, developing sensor solutions for defence and security applications, including for countering cyber threats, along with data management, robotics and cyber security products.

Polar Bears International’s (PBI) mission is to conserve polar bears and the sea ice on which they depend. PBI is the only non-profit organisation dedicated solely to wild polar bears and Arctic sea ice and is a recognised leader in polar bear conservation.

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