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Training to guide
Ecotourism initiative in Arviat continues with an in-class and on-the-land workshop

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, September 6, 2011

During training to become ecotourism guides, five men spent six days camping on the land and had no less than six close encounters with polar bears.

NNSL photo/graphic

Wes Werbowy of Wilderness Consultants, left, took five guides-in-training out on the land as part of an ecotourism workshop last month. The guides are: Jason Curley, left, Pierre Koomuk, Desmond Ukutak, Joachim Akatsiak and Cameron Emiktowt. - photo courtesy of Wes Werbowy

Two of the six encounters came from stalking the animals. The other four polar bears came to inspect the camp, which was surrounded by an electric fence, said Wes Werbowy, who facilitated the ecotourism workshop.

"One large male came to within four feet of the enclosure, but could sense the electrical field and did not bother the campers standing only feet away on the other side of this thin thread of wire," he said.

Werbowy of Wilderness Consultants led the camp and a week-long in-class theory course between Aug. 8 and 19, as part of the ongoing development of the Arviat Community Ecotourism Initiative that launched last year.

The workshop involved taking a boat 112 km south of Arviat to set up camp near Big River, in an area where guided bird-watching and plant photography tours will take place in the future.

It's also a place to see polar bears.

Werbowy, the same man who deterred a polar bear by punching it in the nose last year, said bringing tourists to take photos of polar bears in their natural habitat "is no simple feat."

He noted that according to the Wildlife Act, one can't harass animals or cause them undue stress.

"That means (a guide) cannot chase the animal in order to bring the photographer close enough for a photo. At the same time, his approach has to be carefully calculated to minimize the risk to both the bear and his client."

To do so, it's important guides are aware of the animal's actions; that way, they will know when it's safe to advance or wise to retreat.

"The scary ones are the polar bears," said Joachim Akatsiak, one of the guides-in-training. "We have to be careful, and know if all is well or if it is going to attack."

Cameron Emiktowt said he walked away from the workshop with a greater understanding of a guide's role on the land.

"One bit of advice I got from the course was to stay alert on land and on the sea; this was a great leap toward understanding, and I now have the ability to know.

"I'd love to take part in this kind of work in the future."

Along with learning proper safety techniques, the five guides-in-training practised their photography skills during the workshop, taking photos of polar bears, belugas, birds and plants.

The Arviat Community Ecotourism Initiative is a four-year plan to turn Arviat into a tourism destination. The initiative is being funded by Nunavut Tungavvik Inc. and the Kivalliq Inuit Association.

Two other workshops were held in Arviat this summer as part of the initiative, including small vessel operating proficiency training and Parks Canada interpretation training related to the Arvia'juaq National Historic Site.

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