Tracking Polar Bears—at the Age of 100

Elsa Bailey realizes a lifelong dream during her arctic adventure

Elsa Bailey on her polar bear adventure

One of WWF’s newest members, Elsa Bailey, just accomplished her dream of seeing polar bears in the wild—at 100 years old.

For Elsa’s 100th birthday, she celebrated skiing at the Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin ski resort. The sprite centenarian caught the attention of Becky Pahl from WWF’s travel partner, Natural Habitat Adventures (NHA.) Becky discovered that Elsa’s skiing adventure was not the end of her bucket list—Elsa told a news reporter that seeing polar bears in the wild still topped the list. After watching the report on TV, Becky knew she could make Elsa’s dream come true.

This fall, Elsa travelled with WWF and NHA to Churchill, Manitoba, known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Each autumn, polar bears gather on the tundra to wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze, signaling the beginning of their annual hunting season. Elsa and her travel companions spent three nights in a polar rover, a custom rolling hotel that allows travelers to stay on the arctic tundra close to the polar bear (while keeping a safe distance, of course.) From the raised viewing platform, Elsa achieved her goal: Polar bears regularly approached the polar rover, playing and exploring in full view of Elsa.

“It just stopped, it raised its head, it’s walking toward us,” Elsa said during her first polar bear sighting, watching the approaching bear through the on-board telescope.

Polar bear sightings were just the beginning of her arctic adventure. The trip featured a sled dog excursion. Elsa sat front and center as the dogs whisked the group through the snow. Elsa felt right at home on the dog sled: In her 50s, Elsa spent a winter in Eagle, Alaska where she had use of a dog team.

Elsa was eager to learn about the arctic ecosystem; she asked questions of her guides throughout the trip about life on the tundra and how the wildlife—including arctic foxes, snowy owls and caribou—adapt to living in such extremes. Through her WWF membership (complimentary with her trip) she will continue learning about conservation in Churchill and her future places of travel.

And where to next on Elsa’s travel bucket list? “Yellowstone,” she says.