You may have heard of a little polar bear named Siku (a name that means “sea ice”) who is currently living at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Denmark. This little cutie has been garnering international attention (including a recent appearance on The Today Show) as an ambassador for the plight of polar bears across the globe. His condition as a bear being raised in captivity (because his mother couldn’t produce the milk to feed him) highlights a concern that has been growing over the last couple of decades: the effects of global warming on our environment. And while this bear will live as long as forty years thanks to the efforts of biologists and a fabricated habitat, his brethren in the wild may not be so lucky.
It is estimated that the polar bear species has dwindled to about 25,000 worldwide, but the decline in their population is steady; and it is directly linked to global warming. Thanks to the many hydrocarbons (read: greenhouse gases) that are produced around the world as a byproduct of industry and transportation, the human race is creating a situation in which climate change is occurring, so that global temperatures are on the rise, extreme weather conditions are sweeping the planet, and ecosystems that were once in balance are now completely out of whack, providing a new set of challenges that many species may not survive.
Polar bears, in particular, seem to be one of the first groups to suffer from climate change, and it’s not hard to see why. This species depends on sea ice to live. Although these large mammals spend a good amount of time in the water, they rely on the sea ice to hunt seals (their main food source) and raise their young. But with warmer temperatures reaching the poles and extended summer seasons over the last several years, polar bears are facing a host of setbacks to their way of life that are proving detrimental.
The largest problem is food. A reduction in sea ice results in two drawbacks for the polar bear. First, there is less area on which to hunt, meaning fewer seals and more competition for food. Second, there is greater distance (across water) between ice floes. So not only are polar bears finding less food, in some cases they are swimming such great distances to find it that they tire and drown. And then there is the added problem of breeding. Without enough of the essential fats needed by female bears to breed, fewer cubs are being born and those that are may die off because their mothers aren’t healthy enough to produce the milk they need to survive (as in the case of Siku).
Luckily, there is a way to save the bears, and each and every person on the planet can do their part. By cutting down on the hydrocarbons we produce (mainly through vehicle usage) and seeking out consumer goods from companies that endorse conservation efforts (by utilizing cleaner, greener practices) we can all make a difference and slow the progression of climate change, or even turn it around. In truth, the alarming plight of the polar bears should be nothing so much as a wakeup call to all of us. If we don’t change, we stand to lose a lot more than just a single species.