For some years now the polar bear has been the symbol of climate change with many conservationists concerned about the melting ice home of the animal due to warming temperatures. But a new survey has put a question mark of whether the polar bear is really decreasing in numbers with the survey showing population of the bear in parts of Northern Canada higher that estimated and even growing.
The Government of Nunavut, where there is the most threatened bear subpopulations, found the bear numbers to be 1,013 and could be even higher.
Experts had predicted earlier that the bear numbers could have fallen to 610, a 66 percent lesser estimate than the present numbers. The bear population in particularly this area is crucial as it helps assume the population of bears elsewhere in the arctic.
The study shows that “the bear population is not in crisis as people believed,” said Drikus Gissing, Nunavut’s director of wildlife management. “There is no doom and gloom.”
He also said that they were not dismissing concerns about climate change but wished to manage the polar bears based on current results and not predictions.
Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta who has been studying polar-bear populations for years said the 1,013 figure is derived from a range of 717 bears to 1,430.
“It’s premature to draw many conclusions,” he said.
He also added that there was no comparative figure and to have a number close to the upper range was highly unlikely.
The survey identified 50 cubs, which are usually less than 10 months old, and 22 yearlings, roughly 22 months old. That’s nearly one-third the number required for a healthy population, he said.
“This is a clear indication that this population is not sustaining itself in any way, shape, or form.”
The Polar bear population has been the subject of debate for years now. In 2004 Environment Canada researchers concluded that the numbers in the region had dropped by 22 per cent since 1984, to 935. They also estimated that by 2011, the population would decrease to about 610.
This prompted the American-Canadian government to pass a legislation to protect them.
But even then many Inuit communities said that the polar bear population was actually growing.
The recent survey, which was started last August, was done to determine exactly where the population stood. It involved an aerial survey of more than 8,000 kilometers along the coast of Hudson’s Bay and it’s off shore islands.
Gissing stressed that the polar bears are not endangered. He added that there are about 25,000 polar bears across Canada’s Arctic.
“That’s likely the highest [population level] there has ever been.”
It can not be forgotten though that the population estimate helps decide the quotas for hunting and it is a lucrative industry for many northern communities. The hunting is highly regulated but people from the Inuit community can trade their quota with sports hunters.
A polar-bear hunting trip can cost up to $50,000. Demand for polar-bear fur is also soaring in places like China and Russia and prices for some pelts have doubled in the past couple of years, reaching as high as $15,000.
After the 2004 report the Nunavut hunting quota fell from 56 to just 8 and even though it was raised slightly last year, their were strong voices raised against it. Over all there are 450 bears killed annually in the area and Gissing added that the new quota was to be announced in June.