Today is International Polar Bear Day! So before we get started on my latest piece, there are a few things you should know about polar bears.
- There are 22,000-31,000 polar bears living in the wild, in 18 sub-populations; 60-80% live in Canada, the rest are in Greenland/Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US.
- They are classified as a vulnerable species across their range, with variations among sub-species. Due to climate change and significant loss of sea ice, global polar bear numbers are projected to decline by 30% by 2050.
- Over the course of a year a wild polar bear might walk and swim a thousand miles over an area the size of Pennsylvania. (Track some real polar bears here.) They are highly intelligent creatures who recognize each other, solve problems, and navigate successfully in a land that literally shifts under their feet.
- There are several hundred (my guess, I don’t have data) polar bears in captivity today and zoos continue to breed more. Captive polar bears are prone to a mental illness, sometimes called zoochosis, which causes them to exhibit sterotypies or repetitive behaviors.
- A battle rages among experts as to whether it’s right to keep polar bears in captivity. Is there value in having “ambassador species?” to raise awareness and appreciation? Is it smart to keep “insurance populations” to protect a species from extinction? Is it worth sacrificing the mental health of the individual for the sake of the species?
Those are some of the many questions I raise in my story, published last week in Earthlines Magazine. “And So She Dances” is the story of the mind, and perhaps dreams, of one captive polar bear — Aurora. That piece is now available for download HERE (pdf)
But here’s a preview:
[Note: Since I wrote this, Earthlines has gone out of print and is no longer available]
To read the rest of Aurora’s story and my thoughts on what goes on in the mind of a captive polar bear, you can purchase a digital copy of Earthlines here (click the digital tab). Trust me, the magazine is well worth the €4.50 price. This issue is 75 pages packed with gorgeous photos and art, insightful stories and essays, and poetry that will give you cause to stop and simply…imagine.
…What does she make of the day and night smell of burgers and pizza from the nearby snack bar? What urges are triggered when she picks the odour of wolves, giraffe, howler monkeys, komodo dragons or kangaroos? — “And So She Dances”