The polar bear is the world's largest land carnivore and one of the largest of the bear family.


Polar Bears and Humans

Traditionally, the polar bear has been hunted by the Inuit people of North America and Greenland for its fur and flesh, but it wasn't until Western people began hunting the bear for 'sport', often from aircraft, that the numbers of polar bears dwindled. Between 1965 and 1970 the population of polar bears was estimated at only 8,000 - 10,000 and it was classified as an endangered species.

Fortunately, in 1973, an international agreement banned the hunting of the polar bear, only the native Inuits are allowed to kill them. Since the ban, the polar bear population steadily increased and the current population worldwide is now between 22,000 - 31,000.   It is an endangered animal and there are serious threats to the continued increase of the population; these are...

Habitat destruction

The exploration and recovery of natural gas and oil in the Arctic Basin could destroy important polar bear habitat and food supplies if an accident should occur in the Polar sea - especially as the number of oil wells increases. The human population density may also increase as the development grows and this would increase the likelihood of human and polar bear conflicts.


Toxic chemicals e.g. PCBs, dumped in the sea, even in small amounts, are transferred up the food chain until they become concentrated and accumulate in polar bear body fat. Scientists believe that these chemicals could affect the bears' reproduction and they may not be able to produce as many young as normal. Most countries banned PCBs in the 1980s when they discovered how dangerous they are but unfortunately they can persist for decades.  They can impede the bears’ immune system and cause birth defects.  There has been a noticeable increase in the level of organochlorines found in several polar bears in Canada.


Tourist activity has increased in several areas which has led to accommodation building and the use of all-terrain vehicles and aircraft for aerial tours. This interference means humans come into contact with polar bears and can result in harassment, or even killing in self-defence. Indirectly it may also lead to the bears leaving their habitat to search for peace or abandoning their traditional dens. 

However a respectful, limited level of tourism may be beneficial for the polar bears whilst also generating income for local people as many tour operators follow a code of conduct and partake in conservation efforts.  Tourism is limited anyway with only a limited number of permits to go around.  At least visitors will increase their understanding of the problems polar bears and the Arctic are facing and this awareness will surely help to safeguard their futures.


Read More: Polar Bears and Climate Change

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