Life on Ice

Tammy Schmidt, the Philadelphia Zoo’s Curator of Carnivores and Ungulates is traveling to Canada to observe and learn about Polar Bears in their wild habitats and the effects of climate change with the Zoo’s conservation partners Polar Bears International via the Leadership/ Communicator Camp. The goals of this program are for zoological professionals around the country to become effective advocates both personally and through our individual zoo facilities for conservation and sustainable lifestyles. Tammy will be observing Polar Bears in the wild, learning in depth about climate change and what we as whole communities around the Philadelphia area and our country can do to safeguard the Polar Bears. The camp is facilitated by community members, scientists and educators in Churchill, Manitoba.

To learn about Polar Bears International, visit

10/13/2012 Last Day-Polar Bears International Leadership and Communication Camp 2012

BELUGA WHALES... unbelievable! We travelled to the city of Churchill today to better understand the city and how it fits into the landscape of this amazing environment. We visited Cape Merry which looks across at the history of the area which revolved around the booming fur trade so many, many years ago. While we were graciously greeted by a Parks Canada ranger we saw white flashes in the waves of the river... it was Beluga Whales... it is at the tail end of the migration of the whales back out to the open waters... such an awe inspiring view from the bank. We all felt so lucky!

We then transitioned to the Parks Canada museum. It spotlights the animals of the area and the deep connection it has with the people. While we walked through town we experienced sun, snow, hail, sun and then back to snow again... really a mixed bag when it comes to this time of the season. Our guide Dylan told us that this weather is pretty typical for this time of year. We took a tour through the community center as well, which has everything needed for indoor activities through the thick of the arctic winter season.

As we were winding down as a group of newly graduated ‘Ambassadors of the Arctic’ from Leadership Camp 2012-- we all looked to our individual cities, our zoos and our homes. What will our conservation action plans be —so many ideas. Do we all feel equipped to move forward and make a difference in our world both at our home zoos and aquariums as well as our home lives... YES! We will be coming home to ask you all to help us make a difference through good choices when it comes to reducing our carbon footprints and mitigating Climate Change. Let’s attack this challenge together: bike, walk or carpool to work... stock your car with reusable bags so they are readily available when you shop... place your favorite reusable bottles at work and at home and eliminate plastic bottles from your daily life… as your appliances wear out, replace them with Energy Star appliances... take shorter showers. There are thousands of things we can do—jump in and keep building upon your personal plans and goals. I welcome you to go to Polar Bears International website, click on My Planet. My Part (23 October is the launch of the new website) and share what you are going to do and build on it as you incorporate the changes in your life... gather new ideas when you plug into this site.

As I waited at the Churchill airport (our flights were delayed 3 hours)... I could not stop thinking about getting started... yes, I do some things... but boy armed with all this knowledge... I know –I/ We... ALL OF US can do more. Let’s get started!

Thanks to everyone for following me through this conservation journey. We owe it to our next generations to make sure Polar Bears and their arctic environments are here for them to discover and appreciate.

10/11/2012 -
Polar Bears International Leadership and Communicators Camp 2012

Polar Bear
Polar Bear

Wapusk—this is Cree (one of the dialects of the region) for Polar Bear. In just a few short weeks the full migration will be on for the Polar Bears as they travel from their summer homes to the winter sea ice for feeding. Female Polar Bears will have one thing in mind, to eat as many seals as possible to ready themselves for a long winter in their birthing dens. Males will be looking for food as well their job essentially done for the season.

It is amazing that we are almost to the end of the week. Once again, last night we got to see the spectacular light show from the Northern Lights. Today we prepared for our webcasts. On the webcast we shared stories and concepts that we have learned while here at the communicator and leadership camp. You can view the webcast on the PBI website through the Tundra Connections link.

We really familiarized ourselves with the PBI website, an easily accessible resource for teachers, students, polar bear lovers and more importantly committed individuals looking for ideas and creative ways to become team members in our global movement to mitigate (stop) climate change/global warming and sustain those practices. Check out the launch of PBI’s newly remodeled website on October 23.

This afternoon we had to say goodbye to the tundra, there were 25 mile an hour winds and it was super chilly. It actually felt like the sub arctic today. We moved from the science center into the town of Churchill. Churchill has about 900 inhabitants and has all the luxuries of home, except for a road that leads in or out to any major towns. The only way to get to Churchill is by plane or train. Thankfully we have all we need to make it one more day in the far north of Manitoba.

We visited an Eskimo Museum and learned about the heritage of some of the first settlers to the area and then had a meal right on the river... gorgeous sunset and all. It was a fitting ending to a fruitful day of learning.

Though I am thankful for this time here in Manitoba, I am looking forward to going home and sharing everything I have learned with our Zoo visitors along with my family and friends.

10/9/2012 -
Polar Bears International Leadership and Communicators Camp 2012

Polar Bear
Arctic Fox juvenile

POLAR BEARS TODAY!! We finally got to witness the majesty of the tundra and its wonderful bounty of plants and animals. We boarded a Tundra Buggy (courtesy of Frontiers North Adventures)... this buggy is a 28,000 pounds, elevated transport vehicle that allows us to stay at a safe distance from any Polar Bears while getting the best views of them in their habitats.
We happened upon 4 different bears both male and female. Along with the bears we also got great views of Arctic Fox juveniles (still with their dark grey haircoat), red foxes (that are the richest, darkest burnt red/orange I have ever seen), Tundra Swans, Snow Buntings (small whitish song birds) along with an Arctic Hare (trying to hide amongst the brown, orange low tundra grasses and bushes, even though he is bright white in color).
While we traveled the habitats of the tundra flats and tundra pools along the Hudson Bay we continued to discuss our role as leaders and communicators at our individual home zoos. We realized that not only can we make changes personally in our habits at home and work regarding reducing, reusing, recycling, changing to energy efficient appliances, using recycle bags and buying produce locally we can all work as a group in our neighborhoods and cities to become "community change agents"... we can all challenge one another to take the next step in helping to mitigate our usage of resources and save Polar Bears and their habitats.
Today our PBI group leader had us step outside the back of the Tundra Buggy, close our eyes and just listen, smell and experience what the Polar Bears home is like... it is quiet, it has crisp - cool air and it is perfect for this species. IT IS NOT TOO LATE IF WE ALL "GET OUR ACTS TOGETHER" and make a difference.
Thanks once again for sticking with me on this arctic adventure.

10/8/2012 - Evening

Aurora borealis.

Aurora borealis... AMAZING!!

I just witnessed this amazing scientific phenomenon for the first time in my life. We were in heated discussions regarding how we learn about Climate Change and how we can share the message with our individual zoos and schools when someone came rushing in to report about the amazing display of magnificence in the sky over the center here in Churchill.

I wonder what the Polar Bears think of this light show? Is it a road map in the sky for them…lighting their way - or just another evening to them? AMAZING either way.


“Polar Bear Capital of the World”…that is Churchill, Manitoba Canada... my group has landed here in Churchill this afternoon full of anticipation and enthusiasm for this amazing landscape... where Polar Bears call home. We began with the generous and hardworking staff of PBI handing us heavy duty Parkas loaned to us while we are here—and boy did we need it…it feels like I jumped from summer right into winter... no snow accumulation... but with the wind chill there might as well be snow.

Rocky ourcroppings by Hudson Bay where polar bears can rest between travels and while waiting for ice.

We went right to the Hudson Bay shoreline where we witnessed what the Polar Bears use as their “arctic highway” traveling to and from their favored hunting grounds and denning sites (along the bay)... this is just a few steps away from the town of Churchill.

Humans living in such close proximity to a predator is a serious matter. The folks here must make special accommodations for the daily refuse they produce—(contained in special lockable trash receptacles, closed in until trash pick- up day etc.), they must keep foods put away and take caution when walking alone and in areas that the Polar Bears are known to travel or rest. The region relies heavily on the services of the Manitoba Natural Resources Agency to keep the peace between the Polar Bears and the human inhabitants. This service is called the Polar Bear Alert Program. They have a 24 hour hotline during the peak season for 3 specified zones in the area. If a bear is sited in these zones the hotline is notified and officers come right out to redirect the Polar Bears travels to safer zones.

Tonight we have settled into the Northern Studies Center where we will make our home base for the next 3 nights... we will continue our studies of all things Polar Bears and become immersed in the environment around us. Just today a juvenile Polar Bear was sited right down the road... we are so thrilled to know that tomorrow may be our first glimpse at this majestic North American mega vertebrate.

We have also been told that we may witness the Aurora borealis along with meteor showers tonight…so though the evening is winding down... there is still tons to learn, do and see.

Thanks for sticking with me on this adventure and I will check in with everyone again tomorrow.


Reusable water bottle
Wow... today I met up with the other camp participants from around the U.S. and Canada. We hit the ground running with a flurry of excitement and ideas. It is so exciting to be with a room full of people as passionate as I am about Polar Bears. We began discussing ways we can learn about Polar Bears, their arctic environments and their desperate need for our help as a human race to make choices that will EFFECT CHANGE. What does this mean EFFECT CHANGE? I think I know… but I feel that after my time here this week... I will be able to better understand and then share this message with you. I hope you all stay with me and learn as I learn.

We fly too Churchill in the morning and my expectations are high that I am going to witness something that will be spiritual and moving and life altering... so please “bear” with me and I will try to paint a good picture for you through my blog.

I again challenge you to the Eco Challenges we will be participating in:

Monday - NO SHOWERS (in effect all week) — which really means no showers
Tuesday - Meatless Meal
Wednesday - Use reusable bottles/reusable bottles (used all week)
Thursday - Wear the same clothes all over again (I plan on wearing all my clothes every day just to keep warm)
Friday - Carpool (in the stinky clothes, with the no shower policy) - Yikes... but I WILL SEE POLAR BEARS—Priceless.


I flew over Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada this afternoon thinking what on earth is that “white stuff”... then I remembered “oh yikes” snow! Then I reminded myself that in order for me to come and study, learn and really become focused on all things Polar Bear I needed to travel to a really cold region of our world and that got me excited. I am excited because it is an honor for me to have the Philadelphia Zoo send me out to the areas of Canada where one of our most majestic, charismatic mega-vertebrates calls home - the Polar Bear. Tomorrow I will be immersed in the Polar Bears world and I am thrilled to share what I learn with all of you.

I have several messages I want to bring back to our city and our zoo - what are Polar Bears all about, what are their habitats like, how are they surviving, how is climate change effecting their overall health and survival... and most importantly what can we ALL do to make sure we are doing our part to keep the Polar Bear populations and their habitats safe.

WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MAKING SURE POLAR BEARS ARE ON OUR PLANET FOR YEARS TO COME. Join me through my “In the Field Blogs” and learn what we can do as a community to be examples and truly make a difference in this incredibly important conservation program.