A video released this week brought tears to our eyes; the vision of an emaciated, dying polar bear hopefully will serve as a rallying plea to change our willful environmental disasters and help us to realize how greed and arrogance continues to destroy those we share the planet with as a warming climate continues to take its toll.
According to National Geographic, nature photographer, Paul Nicklen has been a contributor to the magazine for the last 17 years. He is also a biologist and co-founder of Sea Legacy, a nonprofit group that uses storytelling and visuals to send out messages to save the environment.
The shocking and heartbreaking video on a late summer trip on Somerset Island, a Canadian territory inside the Arctic Circle, shows the emaciated polar bear searching for food in an old garbage can, and all he found was an old seat from a snowmobile to chew. In the photo caption, Nicklen described his team as “pushing through their tears” while working on the documentary.
“It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death.”
This is a region where Nicklen grew up, and he stated he had never seen a bear in such poor condition in the past.
“We stood there crying – filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” he wrote. “He should have been a dominant bear. Why he was dying I don’t know.”
Although Nicklen agrees he has no solid evidence that the bear’s condition had been affected by the global phenomenon, he decided to use the photo and let people make up their own minds.
Scientists believe polar bears face extinction as the ice continues to melt. The composite population of 25,000 polar bears are predicted to decline by a third in future decades; hunting and breeding areas are shrinking which presents increased chances of starvation. By 2050, it is believed there will be no more polar bears living in the wild. Bears need a lot of food to sustain their bodies, and when they have little ice to ride, the food supplies (seals) quickly disappear.
“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like,” says photographer Paul Nicklen. “Bears are going to starve to death.”
Some readers have asked why more action wasn’t taken to feed the bear or try to save it; maybe even put him out of his misery?
“It’s not like we travel around with 200-300 pounds of seal meat when we’re walking around in the Arctic,” Nicklen replied. “We knew it was going to be gut wrenching and intense and horrible.”
A 2002 World Wildlife Fund report predicted climate change could lead to their extinction, and that the polar bears had been moving from ice to land earlier in the season and staying longer – gravely extending their fasting season. By the end of summer, most bears showed signs of starvation.
This has not been a recent blight on our planet, and it has progressively been getting worse. No scientists were able to judge the age of the polar bear in the video – just that he was slowly and painfully starving to death. You make the decision about our environment. After all, we are all in this together, and don’t we want our children, grandchildren and many more generations to come enjoy this beautiful planet we share with creatures large and small? Is it man’s path to drill everything out of the earth and its oceans to become richer? When do the animals get a say in the environment? They live here too.
(Photo and video of dying polar bear by National Geographic and Paul Nicklen)
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