The world reacted with horror at footage of a polar bear starving to death and called for urgent action against climate change to save the rest of the species. Nick Ames reports
No one who saw the viral video of a starving and emaciated polar bear searching through rubbish for food on Canada’s Baffin Island, inside the Artic Circle, has failed to be moved. It is a stark and graphic reminder of the very real effects of global warming and how our own actions and industries – mainly animal agriculture –has a shocking effect on megafauna such as the polar bear.
Campaigners, vegans and vegetarians have long since advocated a meat free diet because of the severe consequences on the environment and animals. Now, because of the tons of greenhouse gas emissions being released into the atmosphere so that people can enjoy a burger or steak, animals like this polar bear – and the rest of the 25,000 left – are starving to death.
Campaigners, vegans and vegetarians have long since advocated a meat free diet because of the severe consequences on the environment and animals. Now, because of the tons of greenhouse gas emissions being released into the atmosphere so that people can enjoy a burger or steak, animals like this polar bear – and the rest of the 25,000 left – are starving to death
Photographer and National Geographic contributor Paul Nicklen, founder of conservation group Sea Legacy captured footage of the desperate animal.
‘We stood there crying – filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,’ Nicklen said.
The ‘soul crushing’ video shows the polar bear dragging along its back leg in exhaustion as it searches for scraps, then collapsing to the ground after finding nothing. No one knows what happened next, but, tragically, experts believe it’s most likely the polar bear died shortly afterwards.
‘This is what starvation looks like,’ Nicklen said. ‘The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution.
‘People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this – if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems.
‘This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth – our home – first.’
Victims of Climate Change
The Polar bears are suffering because of climate change. As temperatures in the Artic rise, the ice breaks apart and separates, meaning the bears can’t reach new hunting territory.
‘The footage is absolutely shocking and it is a wake-up call,’ says Greenpeace Australia’s climate and energy campaigner Dr Nikola Casule. ‘It’s telling us climate change is happening today, not in 10 to 30 years, it is here and it is present and it is affecting these beautiful animals today.’
‘Polar bears require the sea ice in the Arctic to survive and they use it to get around. It is also the habitat for the seals, which is basically their only food source.
‘The thing to be clear about is this is caused by humans. This is not a natural thing that the extent of Arctic sea ice has gone backwards over the last 10 – 20 years.’
‘I can’t stop thinking about the polar bear footage. I can’t unsee it. I feel physically sick with hatred, frustration, and hopelessness over what humans are doing to this planet.’
Climate change is the single most important threat to the world’s polar bears, a 2015 study from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature discovered.
Researchers found a high probability that the population would decrease 30 percent by 2050 due to the changes in their sea ice habitat.
Melting Sea Ice
They said as climate change boosts Arctic temperatures, sea ice – crucial for the bear’s breeding and resting as well as hunting – is melting earlier in spring and refreezing later in autumn. The growing number of ice-free days could push the species past a tipping point with widespread reproductive failure and starvation.
Satellite data published last year revealed that the number of ice-covered days across the 19 Arctic regions inhabited by polar bears declined at a rate of seven to 19 days per decade between 1979 to 2014.
Since posting the footage, Nicklen has been asked why he and his team did not help the stricken animal. It’s illegal to feed the animals under Canadian law, and he wasn’t carrying anything that could have helped it.
‘There was no saving this individual bear,’ he said.
As the world reacted with horror, environmentalists and climate change campaigners took to social media to share their heartbreak.
Wildlife activist and writer Dr Daniel Allen tweeted: ‘This is what a starving polar bear on iceless land looks like. This is the heartbreaking reality of #ClimateChange’
Outlander star and model Caitriona Balfe tweeted: ‘This is heart breaking. ‘Soul-crushing’ video of starving polar bear exposes climate crisis, experts say.’
And author Victoria Schwab added: ‘I can’t stop thinking about the polar bear footage. I can’t unsee it. I feel physically sick with hatred, frustration, and hopelessness over what humans are doing to this planet.’
*Feature Image: Sea Legacy