Larger Human Population and Climate Change Affect Polar Bear Habitat

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Humans encroaching on animal habitat (not to mention human-caused climate changes) is having a devastating effect on numerous animal species, regardless of whether they live in the air, on the ground or in the water.

Larger Human Population and Climate Change Effect Polar Bear HabitatTake polar bears, for instance.  Polar bears are what are known as ‘apex predators’ – a top of the food chain animal. Loss of habitat hits apex predators two-fold – they have less land to live in, causing a drop in their population, but they also have to deal with a decrease in food sources as lower level animals die off.

So how are polar bears doing?  And how is the climate in their primary home – the Arctic – faring?  Unfortunately, not too well.  There are an estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears remaining on Earth, and they are now classified as a ‘Species of Special Concern’. And the situation isn’t getting any better, as the summer sea ice in the Arctic is melting at a rate of 11% per decade.

A recent study on polar bear movement found out some shocking facts regarding ice loss.  The biggest surprise being that one female bear studied swam nine days and nearly 700 kilometres non-stop to find ice in the sea.  The bear lost 22% of her body fat, not to mention a cub, in her journey through the Beaufort Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean above the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

“It’s pretty remarkable. That’s the longest that’s ever been recorded for bear swimming non-stop,” a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and lead author of the study, Anthony Pagano, told the Toronto Star. “Historically, there just wasn’t this extensive amount of open water that bears would be forced to swim (in).”

The results of the study, which used GPS tracking on 68 bears between 2004 and 2009, were presented in Ottawa this past summer at the International Bear Association Conference.  Ice volume in the sea is reportedly 47% lower than it was in 1979, which forces bears to swim longer distances to reach ice and, subsequently, food.

Luckily the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working on behalf of the polar bears, as they state on their website five key initiatives they are undertaking to help protect these threatened bears.

  1. Negotiate with governments, industry, and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.
  2. Promote sustainable consumptive and non-consumptive use of polar bears that directly affect the species, such as hunting, poaching, industrial take, illegal trade, and unsustainable tourism.
  3. Protect critical habitat including important movement corridors, and denning habitat.
  4. Prevent or remove direct threats from industrial activity such as oil and gas development, and arctic shipping.
  5. Fund field research by the world’s foremost experts on polar bears to find out how global warming will affect the long-term condition of polar bear.

And as climate change contributes to melt the Arctic, polar bears (not to mention every other animal) need all the help that they can get.

For more information on how you can help the polar bears and contribute to the cause visit: wwf.ca

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