No Comments

The NZ Herald came out yesterday with a story on polar bears resorting to cannibalism in response to global warming. Sadly, the story does not credit any authorities on its statements. In short, it is a particularly credulous and unhelpful piece of reporting.

Cannibalism amongst bear species is not new. Male bears often kill cubs. This, in short, is not news. It also does not prove that polar bears are suffering under climate change.

Let us be clear here. There is an international treaty to conserve polar bears. It is a very long standing treaty, and encompasses the five polar nations (Russia, Norway, Greenland, Canada and the USA). It has been a successful treaty, and since the 1970s, polar bear populations have trended upwards. Now, they are cyclical variations in numbers- in some years bear numbers have dropped and Inuit have responded with less hunts. And in some years, they’ve gone up. Polar bears have been kind of dependent on continuous conservation management (which includes hunting). But they’ve been doing a lot better than many other species.

According to the IUCN red list assessments, the polar bear is not endangered. It is not threatened. It has recently been classed as vulnerable- one of the lowest levels of concern around. The reason for this shift to vulnerable, is because it is predicted- not observed- that they will decline in numbers over the next 30-50 years. The prediction is based on forecasted changes to summer ice.

What is actually more concerning, is that about a third of all our amphibian and all our reptile species are under decline. Extinction pressure is not falling on polar bears in the way it is hitting the scaly creatures. The gharial in India has just had their tenuous population of 1000 animals, fall by 10% in one year.

Let me suggest, that the reason polar bears get a lot more attention that other species, is entirely for emotive reasons. There are doubtlessly many amphibian species that are under far greater pressure from climate change than the polar bear. How about talking to some experts on those?