In the past twenty years that I’ve been regularly traveling to the Arctic, I’ve learned to appreciate and respect the land, the people and the animals who live there. There’s no other place in the world with the open spaces and the bounty of life,” says Norbert Rosing, member of Polar Bears International’s Photography Advisory Council.
Polar Bears International is a nonprofit organization that offers resources and information on the issues affecting the polar bear, a constant and charismatic subject of the Arctic North. PBI’s most pressing concern is the possibility of the near extinction of the polar bear within this century.
“One of the most spectacular places on earth to photograph these magnificent animals is in Churchill, Manitoba,” says PBI President Robert Buchanan. “Many people strongly believe that this population won’t be around in the next forty to fifty years, and that the Arctic itself will be ice-free.” It’s PBI’s opinion that, even though polar bears have often faced danger from man through poaching, pollution or industrial encroachment, the impact of climate change may prove to be a foe they won’t be able to beat without help.
Polar bears easily overheat, even in cold weather. Rising temperatures are not only shortening the winter hunting season, but also thinning the ice that polar bears use as platforms to hunt seals, their primary food source. And with less ice, polar bears have to swim greater distances to find food—there have been recent instances of drowning, despite the polar bear’s natural marine abilities.
Besides being a stunning subject, the polar bear is the top predator in the Arctic, stretching from Russia through Canada all the way to Greenland, and a decline in the estimated population of 20,000 animals would adversely impact the entire Arctic ecosystem. Sadly, according to PBI, populations have already shown a marked decrease in numbers.
Polar Bears International aims to prevent the frightening possibility of extinction through a system of research sponsorships, student interactions and lectures. Administrative costs are paid entirely through grants and gift shop sales, so 100 percent of donations go directly to funding polar bear initiatives, including the Polar Bear Cam, an online video reel of highlights of annual polar bear migrations through Churchill.
“The polar bear is the sentinel species that needs ice to hunt and survive,” ends Buchanan. “These ambassadors of the Arctic are at a serious crossroads. Over the next ten years, what we do will literally affect hundreds of generations of these animals.” For more information, contact PBI at www.polarbearsinternational.org.
To see Norbert Rosing’s book, The World of the Polar Bear, visit www.rosing.de.