Endangered Arctic Animals

Posted on: 14 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

There's an abundance of wildlife at the North Pole, but thinning ice puts polar animals in danger.

Big game tourism continues to be a very popular holiday option for many who can afford the trip to the well maintained reserves of Africa. It is the upgrade of a trip to the zoo with the family, sometimes followed by a few days on a nice beach while you contemplate the plight of the ‘big 5’ animals. Many will point to the dangers facing the rhino or the elephant and question the lunacy of the ivory trade for destroying such treasured creatures.

The White Planet In Pictures

You can click here to take a virtual Arctic safari exploring the North Pole and its endangered animals in this gallery of photos from The White Planet.

As the rest of us question the sanity of those who continually endanger some of nature’s best known creatures for ivory or game hunting, were we  to shift our focus northwards and look closely at what is going on in the Arctic region, we would discover a devastating zone of environmental destruction of massive proportions and devoid of any mass touristic voyeurism.

Our everyday demands for necessities and comforts of modern living  fueled by damaging energy sources is putting a strain on the Arctic whose resident victims  are hidden away from the touristic glare, enjoyed by some of their African counterparts.

Some estimates state that one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers are at risk of extinction and nowhere faster is this being seen than in the Polar regions.

We have long been made aware of the risks of flooding to low lying areas as the polar ice caps continues to melt year on year. Predictions are that in years to come there will be no Maldives or that certain Pacific Islands will disappear, that the map of the world will be reshaped as coastal areas are swallowed up by the rising seas.

We are told to expect a warmer earth but, we are discovering, not necessarily warmer summers.

In the Arctic regions however, warming is occurring at twice the global speed and this is affecting the ice patterns so important to the microclimate of the area. The change in temperature means that the seasonal icing has now taken on a different pattern and thus upset nature’s balance. Summer ice is predicted to disappear within 50 years, spring ice is now thinning with alarming consequences and winter freezing is occurring much later.

If Arctic safaris were common places, then, some of the creatures we would eagerly strive to see would be Polar bear, the Arctic fox, the Wolverine and the Beluga Whale but this Arctic quartet are at risk. Each plight of these creatures highlights a different impact being played out on the delicate microclimate of the Arctic.

The White Planet - waleBeluga whales are victims of the damage caused to the Arctic food chain. Their diet consists heavily of Arctic cod, which themselves feed off a crustacean so dependent on ice algae to survive. However, this food source is now not as abundant as before as the shrinking ice means less and less algae, creating the domino effect all along the food chain.

Arctic foxes too are suffering from the shrinking ice. They are known to shadow Polar bears in hope of scavenging off carcasses and as Polar bear numbers drop so the fox finds it much harder to source food.  However, another threat to their existence is the result of  milder climates which has allowed more dominant Red foxes, not usually known to the polar regions to expand their territories  northward.

Wolverines too have depended on thick ice to make very long dens. Mothers though are forced to abandon these dens as the warmer temperatures melt them away. The young wolverines are often forced to leave before there are ready and are exposed to harsh dangers thus lessening their chances of reaching maturity.  

Polar bears, such symbolic creatures of the Arctic, found in many of the polar countries but mostly in Canada are highly esteemed by scientists as holding many vital clues to our own human existence.  Sadly they could be the most well known of victims of this devastating global warming.  Having developed amazing abilities to withstand extreme conditions, some experts believe that within 100 years the Polar bear will be fighting hard not to join the dodo on the extinct list.

Shrinking ice at a rate of up to 9 per cent per decade means the Polar bear is fighting for its survival as a species. Polar bears need to build up their fat reserves for summer and autumn periods when food sources are leaner. They are finding it harder and harder to spend sufficient time on the disappearing ice sheets that have sustained their existence for so long. Females with young cubs are most at risk and scientists are finding more and more bears whose body condition is lacking in the fat needed to survive.

Albert Einstein stated, "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Whether this is true remains to be seen but as we continue to put more strain on the world’s resources, we should not forget that we as human species are as much a part of the animal world as any of the listed animals above and should not detach ourselves from the future harmful results currently challenging the existence of such familiar favourites as the Polar bear.

The White Planet DVDThe White Planet is out on DVD now courtesy of Optimum Releasing. It costs £19.99 and you can purchase it at all good DVD stores or online from Amazon for £8.98.

© LE CERCLE NOIR pour FIDELIO. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Optimum Releasing Ltd. Artwork © 2008 Optimum Releasing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


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