Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Polar Bear

The Polar Bear is getting quite a lot of attention these days, mainly because of climate change, which is making them very vulnerable if their habitat melts.

They are native to the Arctic Ocean and it's surrounding seas. It is the world's largest predator found on land. A adult males weighs between 400 and 680kg, while a female is much smaller and weighs about half that size. Although it's closely related to the brown bear, it has evolved to occupy a narrow ecological niche, with many characteristics for cold temperatures, moving across snow, ice and open water, and hunting seals which make up most of its diet. Most Polar Bears are born on land, yet spends much of the year on the frozen sea.

My first real live experience of a Polar Bear was as a child in the Auckland Zoo here in New Zealand. Whilst I loved the creature and it was always a must to view it, it used to sadden me. Our bear had formed the habit of pacing back and forth, back and forth along the concrete path of it's pool (prison), occasionally diving in to cool down. Worse, with the warm Auckland temperatures, it's coat was full of algae, and gone was it's wonderful white colour, and in it's place was a lovely shade of green. Yep - a green Polar Bear.

It died a long time ago, and I was pleased, as no matter how well it was looked after, it must have been miserable.

So it was with trepidation that I visited the Polar Bear enclosure at the San Diego Zoo in July 2008. I have to say that the San Diego Zoo really have outdone themselves making this enclosure an enrichment one for it's Polar Bear, and even though I would rather see the bear on the Arctic Sea Ice, I didn't go away saddened.

When I got there the bear was in the water...

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

I was really amazed with the viewing window - and pleased there was hardly anyone around so I could take photos...

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

I was really willing it to come closer to the window to get a nice close up, but it wasn't to be. But I loved the way it played with his ball..

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

While Polar Bears probably don't have big red balls on the ice in the Arctic, at least it had something different to do in the Zoo. Anything that can enrich an animal's life in the zoo is well worth the effort in my opinion.

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

After this shot the Bear got out of the water, and I waited and waited and waited for it to come back. It didn't so I went around searching for another view, and I was not disappointed.

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

Just look at this magnificent creature. Such a shame it's a wild animal as I wouldn't mind cuddling up to it at all!

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

It climbed up onto the rock where there was some grass, then proceeded to play...

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

The sun was quite hot - it was July so was probably trying to get a bit of shade. Although there was plenty of shady areas, it seemed to love this grass..

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

Look at that nose!

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

Isn't he adorable?

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

He still couldn't get the grass exactly how he wanted it, so he tried again...

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

This is better isn't it?

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

Like my new hat?

From Polar Bear at San Diego Zoo

Looks better from this side I think!!

I could have stayed with him for ages but time was marching on and the zoo was simply huge. It really needs two days to view it all. This Polar Bear seemed happy, didn't have any repetitive behaviour traits and his coat was in fantastic condition. I couldn't ask for anything better.

The polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species, with 5 of the 19 polar bear subpopulations in decline. Unrestricted hunting raised international concern for the future of the species however, populations have rebounded after controls and quotas took effect. For thousands of years, the polar bear has been a key figure in the material, spiritual, and cultural life of Arctic indigenous peoples, and the hunting of polar bears remains important in their cultures.

Global warming as the most significant threat to the polar bear, primarily because the melting of its sea ice habitat reduces its ability to find sufficient food. On May 14, 2008, the United States Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Maybe in the future the only place we'll see the Polar Bear is in the zoo. I hope not.

These photos were taken with my Canon EOS 20D which has now been superseded by the Canon 50D. One of these days I'm going to upgrade!


Bron said...

I want a Canon 50D. If I am really really nice to B&H do you think they'll give me one?

I love polar bears. They are one of my favourite animals. They are so beautiful. I'll be really pissed if they disappear in my lifetime.

I remember our polar bear being green too. I didn't like it being stuck in that enclosure either but the zoo has improved so much over the years that I don't mind going to it now. I can remember when all the big cats were in little cages too but now they have nicer homes. But the polar bear pacing used to upset me also. :(

Your photos are great. I love the one with the red ball.

Anonymous said...


Love those polar bear pic's! That last one shows what a noble face this creature has, just wonderful. I've been to the San Diego Zoo. IMO it is one of the better ones in Calif.

I saw the one polar bear in the Los Angeles Zoo some years ago, and I was saddened at its yellow coat and its repetitous pacing. The bear's exhibit was right next to the seal exhibit, so you can imagine how the bear must have longingly whiffed at the smell of those seals, the traditional prey of its breed. The bear died a couple of years ago.

The Arctic ice cap is melting at a rapid rate, and I wonder if the polar bears in the wild will survive this event. It may very well be that the only polar bears that any of us will see will likely be in captivity somewhere in a zoo. :(