The frightening truth behind the viral video of a polar bear petting a dog

polar bear
A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) near Churchill, Manitoba.
Photo by Erinn Hermsen / Getty Images

A short video of a polar bear apparently patting a dog in Northern Canada quickly went viral this weekend, with exclamations of glee from animal lovers. But the CBC unraveled the dark truth of the video – and what really happens when people interfere with the natural behaviours of wildlife.

A man in Churchill, Manitoba, was admittedly regularly feeding the polar bears (and taking money from tourists for a chance to see it), and had multiple dogs chained outdoors on his property. The popular video clip purported to show a happy relationship between at least one bear and dog.

But what the video didn’t show was the ramifications of feeding and allowing wildlife and domestic animals to interact: death.

CBC reported that three bears were “removed” and one dog was killed last week.

“Conservation officers had to immobilize a bear in that area last week and move it to the holding facility because it killed one of [the land owner’s] dogs,” a provincial official told the CBC. “A mother and cub were also removed because there were allegations the bears were being fed and the females’ behaviour was becoming a concern.”

It also reminds us to question what we see in viral internet videos that appeal to our desire to anthropomorphize wildlife: in most cases the whole story, all the circumstances, and certainly all of the consequences, can’t be revealed in a 20-second clip with a catchy headline.

It is also, sadly, a reason to question what we see in some videos that are meant to appeal to our desire to see ourselves in wildlife: the whole story, all the circumstances, and all the consequences, can’t be revealed in a 20-second clip set to music.

The Fur-Bearers will mourn the tragic death of a dog, as well as investigate if the three polar bears were killed, or are being kept in unnatural confinement somewhere. And we will continue to tell animal lovers that feeding wildlife can do much more harm than good – even if you don’t see it yourself.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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