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Science and TEK Clash Over Polar Bears

The Associated Press offers up another article about science and traditional knowledge. In this case, Inuit traditional knowledge says that polar bears are not in decline in the Canadian arctic. Science says they are. From the article:

While scientists warned vanishing sea ice and over-hunting means two-thirds of the iconic predators could be gone within 50 years, the people who have shared “a personal relationship” with polar bears for thousands of years say the threat is exaggerated.

Some of the evidence for the Inuit position includes:

Some 50 years ago, Nirlungayuk said [director of wildlife at Nunavut Tunngavik in Rankin Inlet] there were only about 8,000 polar bears in Canada. Now, he said there are just over 15,000.

Nirlungayuk said his grandfather used to hunt polar bears without any government tags telling him where and what to hunt. Now, Nirlungayuk said he needs a permit.

Biologists only study polar bears for several months of the year, he said, while Inuit have been living side-by-side with the hulking mammals for centuries.

“Because of the population increase . . . we have to watch out for these animals coming into our camps,” he told the gathering of scientists, politicians and Inuit leaders in Winnipeg.

“Forty or 50 years ago, these campsites were not invaded by these animals. But now they are. Inuit have a personal relationship with the polar bears and we want to continue to manage these bears.”

The federal environment minister Jim Prentice reflects on the discrepancies this way:

“It is very clear that we need to integrate science and Inuit traditional
knowledge in a much better way than we have in the past as a country,” Prentice said. “The status of the polar bear is in the hands of many . . . Ultimately, we must all work together.”

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