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                                        Volume. 11935
Save the polar bear — today especially
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c_330_235_16777215_0___images_stories_edim_09_Bears(2).jpgIf you live within shouting distance of the Arctic Circle, hug the closest polar bear. Actually do not do that — an adult male polar bear is nearly half a ton of hungry predator and they are extremely dangerous. Still, the beasts deserve a little tenderness.
 
The polar bear is now considered a vulnerable species, under threat from the loss of its sea ice habitat. To draw attention to their plight, Google is now offering glimpses of polar bears in their native environment, via its Street View program. Cameras in Cape Churchill and Wapusk National Park in northern Manitoba captured images of polar bears doing their polar bear thing during an annual gathering in the region in October and November. 
 
Many scientists and conservationists fear that there may be far fewer polar bears in even that single-decade time frame, thanks chiefly to the effects of climate change. Polar bears use sea ice as a platform to reach their prey, chiefly seals, and summer sea ice is melting fast. 
 
Despite a rebound from a record low in 2012, the extent of Arctic sea ice is generally trending downwards, often dramatically. As the ice vanishes, polar bears are forced to swim longer and longer distances to reach those hunting platforms, which are taking a toll on the species.
 
Exactly how vulnerable polar bears are is not clear, partially due to the fact that they live in such a forbidding climate and are themselves not exactly friendly. That makes getting a proper count challenging. 
Still, most experts agree that there are about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears alive, scattered around the Arctic — a perilously small number though some subpopulations have rebounded, in part because of restrictions on hunting. 
 

Polar bears changing habits
 
There’s also evidence that polar bears are changing their dietary habits, possibly to adapt to the loss of sea ice, shifting from seals to snow geese, caribou and berries. But polar bear subpopulations are still trending downward in many areas of the Arctic, and if climate change keeps vaporizing sea ice, the pressure on the bears will only increase.
 
Of course, that’s true of many, many species; in fact, a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change just found that global warming dramatically increases the risk of extinction for amphibians and reptiles. 
 
Last year a policy paper in Conservation Letters laid out an ambitious plan to save polar bears in the face of global warming, even going so far as to feed starving bears directly — an amazing thought, given the obvious risks. Why go to such great lengths to save the polar bear, and not, say Mexico’s critically endangered pygmy raccoon?
 
The truth is there’s no perfect reason, but it’s the sort of triage we’ll be doing more and more often in the future as we face down the sixth extinction. There is something majestic about a polar bear against the backdrop of the Arctic, something wild and worth saving. And the polar bear dearly needs saving.
 
(Source: TIME)

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