11 July 2005

Polar bears vulnerable to warming - report

The world's polar bear population is expected to decline by more than 30 percent within the next three to five decades because of global warming's effect on their icy habitat, according to a report by a World Conservation Union panel.

The Polar Bear Specialist Group, which gathered at the end of June with representatives from Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States in a closed meeting, called for the polar bear to be listed as "vulnerable".

It is currently in the "least concern" category.

"Future challenges for conserving polar bears and their Arctic habitat will be greater than at any time in the past because of the rapid rate at which environmental change appears to be occuring," the panel said.

The panel reviewed data that showed a drop of at least 16 percent in the polar bear population in the Canadian Western Hudson Bay.

Global warming is the main culprit, the group's report said, as the sea ice in the bears' habitat is breaking up earlier than it used to.

Polar bears typically live on shore until the sea freezes over again, surviving on fat they have accumulated from feeding on seals before the ice breaks apart. Compared to 30 years ago, the bears now have three weeks less to feed and accumulate the fat needed.

There are currently between 20 000 and 25 000 polar bears in the world. The Polar Bear Specialist Group meets every three to five years to discuss the animal's wellbeing and exchange information on ongoing research.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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