February 27th is International Polar Bear Day, sadly this icon of the north is at risk of disappearing due to climate change. International Polar Bear Day is a time to raise awareness, it is also a time to reflect on what we must do to protect this magnificent creature.
A number of lifestyle campaigns focused on carbon reduction are
associated with the day. This includes everything from driving less to
home insulation. Zoos see the day as an opportunity to educate the
public about polar bear conservation.
A polar Bear named Aurora at the Toronto Zoo recently gave birth to a cub called Juno. The zoo’s Tundra Trek exhibit, which includes The polar bear enclosure, is housed in the zoo’s Tundra exhibit which is designed to educate visitors about environmental threats to Arctic animal habitats.
Zoos can be an effective way of bringing climate change into the public consciousness, however, raising polar bears in captivity begs some serious questions On the one hand the collapse of their natural habitat means the zoo may be the bear’s last remaining refuge on the other there are concerns about the ethics of keeping such an animal in captivity. Polar bears in captivity are thought to suffer from mental distress from being kept in a confined space. Although bears bred in captivity do live longer lives they commonly exhibit pathological stereotyped behaviors like moving in circles or shaking their heads back and forth.
These bears can never be released back into the wild so it diminishes the validity of the conservation argument. However, genetic material from captive bears could be introduced into wild bears if the gene pool becomes dangerously small. As part of this effort Zoos around the world are already developing ‘gene banks’ to protect genetic diversity.
Different zoos celebrate International Polar Bear Day in different ways. In 2014, the Chicago Zoological Society took the “Thermostat Challenge” and lowered the temperatures by 2 degrees in non-animal buildings.
The polar bear is the first animal to be added to the Endangered Species Act because of global warming. As we reflect on the possible extinction of this majestic creature we cannot ignore the central role that humans have played in its demise.
Bears depend on the sea ice to hunt for seals. As the temperature warms the sea
ice retreats there is less ice to be found. The result is the bears are
dying from starvation or drowning from exhaustion looking for sea
To help this endangered species and all life on Earth we must urgently and ambitiously reduce the emissions that are the cause of climate change.