Meet Ugly Butt
Not your average bear – but then, this isn't your average job.
He's big, he's brown, he's adorable and he has an aesthetically challenged rear. His name is Ugly Butt, and he is one of the bears we've come to know and love at our Diavik diamond mine, located just 200km from the Arctic Circle, in Canada's Northwest Territories.
Ugly Butt and the other grizzlies that roam the area around Diavik are part of our award-winning grizzly bear study, the largest of its kind in the region: over 100 specially designed back-scratching posts are baited with a pungent mix of oils and animal by-products. The bears, attracted by the smell, rub themselves on the posts, leaving behind hair samples and setting off cameras fitted with motion detectors.
Sean Sinclair leads a team of environmental experts who look after the water, land and animals around Diavik: "We know we're in their home, so we want to make sure we leave a good legacy – that we take care of the site, and make sure our impact on the environment is minimal," says Sean.
There's no such thing as a regular day at the office: "There aren't too many jobs where you get to go out and explore a super remote arctic tundra – and we get to do that on snowmobiles, boats and helicopters."
The team's work includes everything from taking water, rock and air samples to wildlife monitoring – wolverines to caribou – and research, like the grizzly bear study.
"We're looking to see whether mining activity has affected the bears," Sean says.
We take background data from before the mine was built and we look at how the grizzly bear numbers have changed over time.
So far the team has collected more than 10,000 grizzly bear hair samples, the DNA of which helps track bears. The latest results suggest grizzly numbers have actually increased since the study began in 2012 – from about six to eight bears per 1,000km2. Sean says it’s good news, and shows there's a stable to growing population of grizzlies in the region.
"It might not sound like a lot but it's a pretty good density of bears – more than what people expected," says Sean.
The team's work is aimed at keeping bears like Ugly Butt happy and safe. While up to 20,000 grizzly bears still live in Canada, the animal is listed as a species of special concern because of its sensitivity to human activities. Plus the harsh northern climate means grizzlies in the Northwest Territories tend to have fewer babies than in other parts of Canada and America.
The information from Diavik's grizzly bear study is used to help plan conservation activities in the region, as well as guide Diavik's own environmental management work.
As for Ugly Butt, as of this writing, he's enjoying a well-earned rest tucked up safe and cosy in his den. We look forward to seeing him again come spring.