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Protecting Polar Bears

Global warming threatens population

By Karen Fanning | null null , null
A polar bear with its cub in the snow. (Photo: Stock Image/Jupiterimages)
A polar bear with its cub in the snow. (Photo: Stock Image/Jupiterimages)

The Bush administration took action last week to help the world's shrinking polar bear population, announcing that the animals may soon be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"Polar bears are one of nature's ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world's harshest environments," says Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. "But we are concerned the polar bears' habitat may literally be melting."

While pollution and hunting continue to threaten the polar bear, global warming in the Arctic poses a real danger to its survival.

The world's remaining 25,000 polar bears make their home in the frosty climates of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. Warmer than normal temperatures, however, have caused the sea ice there to melt—the same ice polar bears roam to hunt for seals and walruses.

Habitat loss has resulted in polar bears' losing weight, drowning, and starving to death. Fewer cubs have been able to survive the changing conditions. For example, the polar bear population in western Hudson Bay in Canada experienced a 22-percent decrease from 1987 to 1994.

Conservation groups are calling for the U.S. government to pass a law that would reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

The Department of the Interior will take the next 12 months to determine the polar bear's fate. If the agency decides to list it as a "threatened species," the polar bear would be protected from activities that would hurt the species or its habitat.

The world's largest bears, polar bears can stand up to 11 feet tall, and some males weigh as many as 1,400 pounds. A four-inch layer of fat insulates the animal from harsh temperatures.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Are you interested in how environmental changes affect the world? Let Scholastic News Online be your guide! Learn about what Kid Reporters are saying about the changing climate by reading their articles in this special report

About the Author

Karen Fanning is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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