Polar Bears Walking on Thin Ice

Story by Roderick Eime

It seems the world’s cutest animals are those most threatened by the ones who love them most – us.

Of the seven short-listed finalists in the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) poll for the world’s cutest animal, half are endangered or under threat.

The huge arctic Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) is one such contender. And just what is it about a giant, ferocious carnivore that can crush a seal’s skull with one blow from its massive paw that engenders such affection in another mammal (us) that would otherwise be its prey?

Despite its fearsome reputation, Polar Bears are majestic, social, caring, intelligent beasts with an imploring, puppy-dog look that seems to say, “go on, give us a cuddle.” But that is the last thing you’d want to do to the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore.

Even though the hunting of Polar Bears is now greatly diminished, they face an even tougher struggle against the effects of man-made global warming. WWF studies indicate that, with the present rate of global warming, Polar Bears will be extinct within 100 years, even if hunting were to cease tomorrow.

Polar Bears, female with cubs. Churchill, Manitoba Canada (c) WWF / Kevin SCHAFER

“Polar bears are walking on thin ice,” said Samantha Smith, director of the WWF International Arctic Programme. “If we can secure their future by cutting carbon dioxide emissions, we can secure the future of thousands of other species around the world.”

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) was produced by more than 250 scientists for arctic governments. It provides incontrovertible proof that climate change is happening in the Arctic and that it will get worse more quickly unless emissions of carbon dioxide are cut.

“The big melt has begun,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF’s global climate change campaign. “Industrialised countries are carrying out an uncontrolled experiment to study the effects of climate change and the Arctic is their first guinea pig. This is unethical and wrong.”

Some, like US Republican politicians, believe that the WWF are doomsayers and scaremongers, that their data is flawed and that they are naïve reactionaries, tugging on heartstrings and ignorance. But when one considers the Republicans’ huge oil interests, it seems unlikely they would encourage us to burn less of it.

The world’s population of Polar Bears is estimated at around 22,000 animals, and although this number does not appear to be falling, Canadian Wildlife Service studies in Hudson Bay indicate that the physical condition and breeding success of bears is definitely declining.

And while the two opposing factions bicker over CO2 emissions, the magnificent Polar Bears are clearly showing the strain as their hunting ground literally melts beneath them.

Photos coutesy WWF Canon / Jack Stein GROVE / Kevin SCHAFER

Grab Facts (from WWF)

Habitat and Distribution

Polar Bear populations can be found in northern Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia, and there have been reports that polar bear tracks have been found as far north as the North Pole.


Polar Bears hunt ringed and bearded seals on the sea ice, between late April and mid-July, by breaking into seal dens in the sea ice.


Polar Bears breed in late March, April and May. The males actively seek out females by following their tracks on sea ice. They remain with the female for a short time, then leave in search of another female.

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