- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mary Blake Bonn’s summer camp experience this year turned out to be a bear of a time.

The 16-year-old junior from the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore was one of 12 students from around the world chosen to participate in the Polar Bears International Science Leadership Camp — an effort sponsored by Polar Bears International to educate young people about environmental issues and polar bear conservation.

“[My school] called me and asked if I had a passport and liked polar bears,” Mary Blake said. “And that was that.”

Students from Australia, Canada, Germany and the United States spent 11 days riding in a helicopter, traversing the tundra and watching Arctic wildlife as part of the program, which began Sept. 30.

Based primarily in the town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, the campers visited a polar bear’s abandoned maternal den and spent four days in the Tundra Buggy Lodge — a residence made up of six tundra buggies parked end to end, which allowed campers to come face to face with the subject of their studies.

“I actually got to look out the window of the buggy and be about two meters from a polar bear,” Mary Blake said. “It was pretty incredible.”

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore helped select Mary Blake for the program. Becky Lynagh, an animal keeper who works with the zoo’s two polar bears, Alaska and Magnet, also went on the trip to see the bears in their natural habitat.

“I just wanted to see some bears,” Miss Lynagh said. “I see them every day but not right outside my bedroom window.”

Miss Lynagh said the wild bears’ hygiene and habits closely resemble those of the zoo’s two captive bears.

“Looks-wise, wild bears are just as dirty and lazy as ours,” Miss Lynagh said. “We had one bear that hung around the lodge the whole time we were out there. [He would] sit and look up to you like ‘Please feed me.’ It was the same look Alaska and Magnet get.”

The group saw nine bears in all, as well as several Arctic hares and foxes, and spent several nights watching the northern lights. Mary Blake said the experience gave her a better understanding of polar bears, conservation and other issues such as global warming.

“I actually didn’t know much about polar bears before. I was just generally interested in the environment,” Mary Blake said. “Every generation has its burden and climate change is my generation’s burden. Like it or not, we need to do something about it.”

Polar bears are a potentially threatened but not endangered species, according to Polar Bears International.

Biologists estimate there are as many as 27,000 polar bears worldwide, with about 60 percent of those living in Canada.

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