Polar
bears inhabit almost all areas of the tundra region, with
approximately 60% living within Canada. Polar bears are at the top of
the food chain with their only predators being humans and each other.
Historically they have been hunted commerically and also for their
hides, a great prize among trophy hunters. This continued unregulated
until 1973 when an accord was signed to regulate practices and to
conserve polar bear populations. The Agreement on the conservation of
Polar Bears was a landmark agreement involving Canada, Denmark,
Norway, USA and Russia and still remains today.Presently the
main concern for Polar Bears is loss of habitat and reduced access to
prey and breeding sites due to rising temperatures causing sea-ice
loss. They rely almost entirely on sea-ice because their main prey,
the ringed seal, is highly dependent on it too. The ringed seal is
the only food source available to them with a high enough fat content
to keep them healthy and sustained through their long hibernation
period (up to 7 months). Although polar bears are strong
swimmers, a reduction in sea ice means that they are being forced to
swim for longer distances between ice to catch their prey.
Researchers have sadly reported that due to a lack of ice flows,
there has been an increase in cases of Polar Bears drowning from
exhaustion. Conversely, if the bears decide to stay on shore then it
is likely that they will be forced into fasting until the summer
period is over due to the lack of prey available to them. This
sometimes leads to starvation and subsequently the death of the polar
bear.Human-polar bear interactions are another downside to
sea-ice loss. Scared and undernourished Polar Bears have started
venturing southward into residential areas in search of food in
Northern communities. This logic also applies to growing tourism in
the tundra region, polar bears are inquisitive, curious creatures
that get drawn in by sounds and smells coming from campsites and
visiting tourists on shore. The consequences of these encounters are
usually tragic for both the human and the polar bear.Due to
them living in remote and hard to access areas, it is difficult to
monitor exact numbers and although there is no specific data from
some areas in Russia and Greenland, the ICUN estimates that there are
roughly 26,000 polar bears left and as such they are now listed as a
vulnerable species. Though they have no general fear of predation,
polar bears now face a much greater threat to their existence –
mankind. Lack of sea ice (largely due to climate change) is
unfortuantely just the tip of the iceberg and other factors including
oil and gas exploration, tourisms, mining and shipping are also
adding to the loss of this beautiful creature.