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Climate change: polar bears more threatened than previously thought

More and more polar bears are threatened by global warming. Two thirds of the twelve scientifically examined polar bear populations are shrinking, as the experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN and the environmental foundation WWF have now announced.

Polar bears depend on pack ice when hunting for their main food source, the seals. Due to global warming, the sea ice is retreating to an ever greater extent and over ever longer periods of time during the year. If the bears cannot follow the receding ice, their feeding situation will deteriorate - with fatal consequences, as new studies show.

Shrinkage at two thirds

According to the environmental foundation WWF, the population of five polar bear populations declined in 2005, and within less than four years the number rose to eight. This means that two-thirds of the twelve scientifically investigated polar bear populations are shrinking. “There is a worrying downward trend. If the current development continues unchecked, the number of polar bears in 2050 could be at least 30 percent lower than today, ”warns WWF conservation expert Stefan Ziegler.

"Due to the speed with which its habitat changes, the polar bear has no opportunity to adapt," says Ziegler. The animals were threatened with starvation, drowning and stopped reproducing due to stress. Large areas would then be “polar bear-free zones”. Man-made climate change, which is changing the Arctic ecosystem at a rapid pace, is responsible for this.

Polar bear population development © WWF

Trend still reversible

The IUCN expert group describes the connection between global warming and the declining population as "clearly demonstrable". At the same time, the environmentalists are optimistic that they will still be able to reverse the negative trend in polar bears - provided that the international community lowers its greenhouse gas emissions quickly and on a large scale. Above all, there is an urgent need to prevent a complete loss of the summer ice. "If the earth's climate warms up by an average of more than two degrees, it will have devastating and irreversible effects on the polar bear's habitat," says Stefan Ziegler.

(WWF, July 23, 2009 - NPO)

July 23, 2009