Filming a polar bear just inches from its nose, close enough to see its breath fog up the lens, was a career highlight for Jeff Thrasher.
The CBC producer is part of the team behind Arctic Vets, a new show that follows the day-to-day operations at Assiniboine Park Conservancy in Winnipeg.
“It was breathing warm air onto the lens. I was thinking, ‘Wow, there’s nothing between me and this polar bear,”‘ Thrasher said, who filmed the shot using a GoPro camera up in Churchill, Man.
The show is also the first time cameras have been allowed in the Winnipeg facility, which houses Arctic animals like seals, polar bears and muskox.
“I’ve filmed many, many things in my career and that’s right up there,” Thrasher said.
There are 10 half-hour episodes in the new series that features expeditions to Manitoba’s subarctic, emergency animal rescues and daily life at the conservancy.
The first episode follows veterinarian Chris Enright to Churchill just as polar bears are starting to migrate up the coast of Hudson Bay. When a bear wanders too close to town, Enright works with the local Polar Bear Alert Team to catch it and lift it by helicopter to a safe distance away.
In the same episode, back in Winnipeg, the team trims the hooves of resident 800-pound muskox, Chloe.
Although being around Arctic animals is part of Enright’s daily life, he hopes the show will help bring southern Canadians a little closer to the North.
“This is our norm. But it’s not the norm for a lot of people, so the show is a good opportunity to tell these stories,” he said.
“We have herds of caribou that rival migrating animals on the Serengeti, but people in the South don’t necessarily know about that. And that’s really unfortunate, because there’s some incredible wildlife in the North.”
Enright also hopes the show will urge Canadians to think about protecting the country’s Arctic ecosystems, which face the critical threat of climate change.
“There’s a lot of concern with the effects of climate change and over the next 50, 100 years what’s going to happen. As southerners, there are things we can do to protect and conserve those ecosystems,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also hit in the middle of filming, which Enright said prevented the team from travelling into Nunavut.
Jackie Enberg, an animal care supervisor and Heather Penner, an animal care professional, are also featured in the show for their work with polar bears.
“It’s not just animal care or vet care, or conservation and research. It’s all of it. We all have a great passion to educate and share and help inspire other people to make a difference, whether it’s to make changes in your lives or just talk about,” Penner said.
Enberg said the bears featured in the show were rescued when they were a few years old.
“They’re here because they could not survive in the wild,” Enberg said.
“We just ultimately hope people will fall in love with polar bears as much as we have,” Penner said.
Arctic Vets airs Friday. Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
By Emma Tranter in Iqaluit, Nunavut
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship
The Canadian Press