Here at the QMUL Sustainability blog we are keen to showcase a range of environmental issues. In this series of blog posts, English department finalist Becky Cox encourages students and staff to think about and get involved in wildlife conservation. Following on from the recent cold snap and previous piece on penguins, this piece explores conservation issues surrounding the polar bear!
Welcome back and a Happy New Year! For those that did not read the first issue of this blog every month I write an article about an endangered species to raise awareness of it’s condition and to show you how we can help it. Last month in the run up to Christmas the blog post was about penguins and now as the weather outside is getting colder here is a little information about Polar Bears and how we can help them.
The Polar Bear, a rather unique member of the bear family has adapted itself so perfectly to its environment it is now in danger of becoming extinct. Despite its clear differences to other bears, it had only become a distinct species in 1774 when Constantine John Phipps chose its scientific name Ursus Maritimus, the maritime bear. In different cultures and periods the polar bear has been dubbed ‘white bear’ and ‘ice bear’ due to its individuality. In fact in 1252 the King of Norway gave Henry III a ‘white bear’ as a gift. He kept his pet in the Tower of London and fed it by letting it on a long lead to fish in the Thames, which was once filled with copious amounts of salmon. Today polar bears are possibly the most carnivorous of all the bears eating just seals. Other bears’ diet is on average 80-90% insects and foliage; however, the polar bear must maintain its layer of blubber to endure the icy climate so this diet would be impossible regardless of the practicalities.
Most of us know that the future of the polar bear is quite bleak without serious action regarding global warming; in fact almost half of the sub-populations of the species are in decline as the situation currently stands. But let’s put global warming to one side for a moment and consider why the polar bear originally became an endangered species. Indigenous tribes and huntsman within the last century were previously allowed to hunt the polar bear at an unlimited quantity. All parts of the bear were used for various means except the liver which if eaten could kill a human due to extraordinary levels of Vitamin A. Due to various Acts the number hunted each year has been reduced; however, in Canada alone five hundred are killed each year, a number that to me hardly seems justifiable, sustainable or moral. The U.S and Russia have banned hunting entirely but poaching still occurs.
Polar bears hunt by standing on a platform of sea ice, when this melts they are pushed back to shore where they may have to swim for days to find food. In fact they can actually swim for up to a week, or sixty-two miles in one stint but making journeys like this uses up their fat reserves and some drown through exhaustion. If these consequences were not troublesome enough, the lack of food increases infant mortality and decrease rates of reproduction.
So, how can you help?
Good news – because these animals are directly impacted by climate change there is so much you can do!
- Reduce waste by recycling.
- Take public transport, share lifts, cycle or walk.
- Plant a tree!
- Reduce use of electricity by turning objects off rather than leaving them on standby. Also turn off lights.
- Turn down your heating – put on an extra jumper!
- Grow your own food or buy locally.
Obviously these are small ideas (that together make a big impact) and we should be doing them regardless of how wonderful polar bears are. Equally if you are motivated by the imminent threat to animals and nature then go ahead and get involved because that reason is as commendable as any other!
Equally as helpful (and quite fun!), you can adopt a Polar Bear here:
Or donate to help Polar Bears have their best chance in the wild. This website also has a bear tracker map based in Canada which is very interesting:
Also on February 27th of every year International Polar Bear Day raises awareness of the status of this endangered species – so get involved!
Below are a few useful links if you would like to know more about this wonderful animal.
Thank you for reading!