Will polar bears be nothing but a myth to our great-grandchildren? Currently, the global polar bear population is estimated between 22,000 and 31,000 bears, total. The U.S. Geological Survey indicates this number will decrease two-third by 2050.
For more than a decade, polar bears have been given a spotlight in the conversation about global warming. Despite high awareness of the polar bear plight, population declines have only sped up. Melting ice means bears can’t access seal hunting grounds, and subsequently females become malnourished and infertile.
Because polar bears have become a type of icon for global warming, they are often plucked from their natural habitats and put on display in zoos. This is done under the guise that the bear is being kept ‘safe’ or the polar bear exhibit might include information about wildlife preservation in order to inspire people to care about habitat destruction.
Keeping polar bears in captivity is extremely cruel and exploitive. Polar bears are large creatures, meant to roam miles-long stretches of sea ice. A study of 11 polar bears in seven different zoos across the world revealed the bears spend a large portion of their time engaged in bored, anxious behaviours like pacing or head-bobbing.
Taiwanese photographer Sheng-Wen Lo spent a year photographing polar bears in captivity, exposing the strange and heartbreaking juxtaposition of the animals imprisoned, for his collection White Bear. “Combined with artificial habitats and props, the bears look very awkward. It’s a forced reality,” admits Lo.
Climate-caused disturbances are particularly notable in Hudson Bay, Canada. Longer summers mean bears are left to forage on land for almost half the year, waiting for the water to freeze over again so they can re-commence hunting seals.
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