One simple reason we aren’t acting faster on climate change?

Images like that of a polar bear on a melting ice field are iconic. But in terms of getting people to act on climate change, they may be ineffective. Here’s why.


We’ve all seen how powerful images can make abstract crises feel concrete. Think of the photographs of a Chinese man blocking a column of tanks a day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing from napalm in 1972 or of 7-year-old Amal Hussain wasting away from hunger in Yemen. When done well, photographs help people around the world make sense of unseen disasters.

Now close your eyes and try to picture climate change – one of our generation’s most pressing crises. What comes to mind? Is it smoke coming out of power plants? Solar panels? A skinny polar bear?

That’s problematic, says psychologist Adam Corner, director of Climate Visuals, a project that aims to revitalise climate imagery. “Images without people on them are unable to tell a human story,” says Corner.

Researchers have found that images like this one lack a humanising element

Researchers have found that images like this one lack a humanising element that makes them compelling… (Credit: Getty)

…compared to a photograph like this, which shows the local, human impact of pollution

…compared to a photograph like this, which shows the local, human impact of pollution (Credit: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR)

And that kind of imagery might be a big part of why so few of us are prioritising climate action.

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Climate change has an inherent image problem. While you can clearly visualise plastic pollution or deforestation, climate change has a less obvious mugshot: the gases that cause global warming, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are colourless, while impacts are slow-paced and not always visually striking.

So in the 1990s, reporters, politicians and others began using the sort of imagery that would help us begin to grasp the situation. That idea helped us understand the subject then. But it now needs revamping. For one thing, climate impacts are more evident now: take the frequency of wildfires, coastal flooding, droughts and heat waves.

Because most people aren’t that familiar with how coral should normally look

Because most people aren’t that familiar with how coral should normally look, researchers found that an image like this one, of coral bleaching, had less impact… (Credit: Getty)

a real person doing research on climate change’s impact on the coral

…than an image like this one, which shows a real person doing research on climate change’s impact on the coral (Credit: NPS)

But another reason to update climate change’s visuals is that, for the general public, ‘traditional’ climate images aren’t that compelling.

Wondering if there was a better way to tell climate change stories, Climate Visuals tested what effect iconic climate images – like that lonely polar bear – really had.

Although iconic, an image of an animal most people have never seen

Although iconic, an image of an animal most people have never seen, living in a place they have never been, may not be as effective… (Credit: Getty)

The search for Hurricane Katrina survivors

…as this image of the search for Hurricane Katrina survivors, which shows the impact of climate change in a more recognisable environment (Credit: Master Sgt Bill Huntington)

After asking people at panel groups in London and Berlin and through an online survey with over 3,000 people, the team concluded that people were more likely to empathise with images that showed real faces – such as workers installing solar panels, emergency respondents helping victims of a typhoon or farmers building more efficient irrigation systems to combat drought.

The researchers found that images like this one often don’t make an impact on the viewer

The researchers found that images like this one often don’t make as much of an impact on the viewer… (Credit: Getty)

as this kind of image

…as this kind of image, which participants thought was an intriguing take on solar energy that encouraged them to want to know more (Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL)

It also helped when photographs depicted settings that were local or familiar to the viewer, and when they showed emotionally powerful impacts of climate change.

Respondents in their study were also cynical of ‘staged’ pictures… and of images with politicians.

Climate Visuals’ quest is not entirely new. For over a decade, scholars have analysed the way NGOs and governments represent climate change visually, examined how the public reacts to different types of images and come up with new approaches. What it’s done differently, though, is to create the world’s largest climate image library based on those lessons.

Researchers found that a picture like this one, which highlights an individual behaviour

Researchers found that a picture like this one, which highlights an individual behaviour, can create a defensive reaction in the viewer… (Credit: Getty)

Pork meat production (Credit: Qilai Shen/Panos Pictures)

..while a striking image like this, which shows high-emissions meat production at scale, was more effective (Credit: Qilai Shen/Panos Pictures)

And for better or for worse, it’s no longer that difficult to find human-led photographs of the consequences of climate change.

“The stories we need to tell are all around us in a way they were not 20 years ago when the polar bear became an icon,” says Corner.

Hungry polar bear seen wandering the Russian city of Norilsk

By Gianluca Mezzofiore and Nathan Hodge, CNN

A hungry and exhausted young polar bear was spotted wandering in the suburbs of the Siberian industrial city of Norilsk this week, hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.

This is just the latest recent sighting of a bear in a Russian urban area, but the last time a polar bear appeared near Norislk was more than 40 years ago, Anatoly Nikolaichuk, head of the Taimyr Department of the State Forest Control Agency, told Russian state news agency TASS.

“He is very hungry, very thin and emaciated. He wanders around looking for food. He almost doesn’t pay attention to people and cars,” Oleg Krashevsky, a local wildlife expert who filmed the animal close up, told CNN. “He is quite young and possibly lost his mother.”

“He probably lost orientation and went south,” Krashevsky added. “Polar bears live on the coast which is more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from us. How he got to Norilsk is not clear.”

Sea ice across the Arctic is rapidly retreating due to climate change, forcing the bears to travel farther to find food.

Local residents were warned to be careful entering the tundra zone of the Talnakh region, where the bear was seen, according to an announcement from the local civil defense and emergency situations ministry on TASS.

The animal was first seen by a group of teenagers, who filmed it and posted the video on Instagram, Krashevsky said.

“I saw it was not fake and raised the issue with local authorities,” he said. “As an expert on bears, I went to look for him … I found him in the middle of the day.”

Local news site NGS24.RU on Wednesday quoted Andrei Korobkin, the head of the state department of wildlife protection, as saying that experts would be arriving from Krasnoyarsk to examine the bear and determine possible symptoms of exhaustion or physical trauma.

The specialists will bring provisions as well as medicine to restore the bear’s health, NGS24.RU reported.

Polar bears are on the International Red List of Threatened Species and in the Red Book of Russia of endangered species. Citing experts, TASS said there are 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the world. In the north of Krasnoyarsk, a vast administrative region in Siberia, the bears inhabit the coast and islands of the Arctic Ocean, the agency added.

In April, a starving polar bear was spotted in the village of Tilichiki in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, also hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.

In February, the remote Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlaya declared a state of emergency over what local authorities described as an “invasion” by dozens of the hungry animals.

Should polar bear hunting be legal?

As hunters target bigger polar bears for their luxurious pelts, one researcher fears we are reversing natural selection.

Countries around the world agree that polar bears are in trouble: They’re considered threatened in the United States, of special concern in Canada, and vulnerable internationally. Yet in much of their icy habitat, it’s perfectly legal to pick up a gun and shoot one.

In Canada, home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s estimated 25,000 remaining polar bears, the animals are hunted both for their meat and for their thick, furry white pelts. The Canadian government and conservation groups alike have long held that polar bear hunting in Canada is sustainable. But in his new book, Polar Bears and Humans, Ole Liodden, a Norwegian polar bear researcher, argues that it’s not.

For decades, Canada has been the main hunting ground for polar bears. The Canadian government sometimes makes recommendations on how to hunt sustainably—for example, harvesting two males for every female—but Canada’s provincial and territorial governments establish their own annual hunting quotas.

Canada, home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, is where most hunting occurs.


Liodden believes that rationale is flawed because the polar bears in highest demand for the commercial pelt trade are the largest males—the strongest and healthiest animals. By removing those bears from the population, he says, hunters perpetuate what he calls “reverse selection”—the idea that instead of survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the weakest.

Polar bears use sea ice platforms to hunt for seals when they surface for air. But, Liodden says, as our warming planet melts more sea ice, perpetuation of the species may rest with the strongest bears—those that can swim farther, hunt better, or go longer without food.

By removing the biggest, healthiest bears from the population, researcher Ole Liodden worries that hunters perpetuate what he calls “reverse selection”—the idea that instead of survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the weakest.

Counting polar bears and assessing how well they’re doing is expensive and difficult. Of the 19 subpopulations that make up the worldwide estimate of 25,000 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the conservation status of wild animals and plants, data on the number of bears, their health, or both are lacking for at least 10 of those populations. So it’s not surprising that experts disagree on the greatest threats facing polar bears.

Eric Regehr, a member of the IUCN’s polar bear specialist group, says “unequivocally” that climate change is their greatest threat. Iverson is more measured, saying that climate change could become a problem for polar bears in the future but that at present “the overall polar bear population in Canada is healthy.”

According to Iverson, evidence amassed over three decades shows that Canada’s hunting quota “is not endangering polar bears.” And because populations are assessed and quotas are adjusted every few years, future quotas will account for the effects of climate change. “It’s something that we have mechanisms in place to course correct, if in a given subpopulation there’s a concern.”

Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory, agrees. He says that each subpopulation is evaluated by the relevant provincial or territorial government every five to 15 years and that hunt quotas are adjusted accordingly based on the best, most current research. “We can’t manage based on what might happen 50 years from now … If sea ice completely disappears in certain areas, the bears will disappear with it … We can’t change the ecosystem to accommodate those animals.”

“Like a Ferrari in your garage”

According to Liodden, between 1963 and 2016, an average of 991 bears were hunted worldwide every year, totaling about 53,500 bears. He calls that number “crazy high,” given how many polar bears are believed to be left and how slow they are to reproduce.

As the largest supplier of polar bear skins, Canada exports hundreds each year, which Liodden says often carpet customers’ floors or are mounted on the wall as the “ultimate status symbol … It’s like to have a Ferrari car in your garage … It’s an item you can have that not many other people have.”

Customers pay thousands of dollars for polar bear wall mounts or rugs as “the ultimate status symbol,” says researcher Ole Liodden.


“It’s a status symbol, there’s no doubt about it,” says Calvin Kania, owner of FurCanada, a Canada-based company that sells polar bear rugs and taxidermied bears. “It’s no different than wearing a diamond or wearing a sable fur coat.” Customers pay thousands of dollars for a single pelt. Kania says his prices for a polar bear rug peaked between 2013 and 2015 at about $20,000 but that prices have since dropped to between $12,000 and $15,000 as demand has declined.

For decades, Japan had a big appetite for polar bear skins, but demand there fell during the mid-2000s after the Japanese economy crashed. In 2008, imports into the United States—formerly another major market for skins—became illegal after polar bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Now it’s China: Between 2006 and 2010, the country imported 467 polar bear skins, but between 2011 and 2015, the number more than doubled, to 1,175, accounting for about 70 percent of Canada’s exports, according to Liodden.

In Liodden’s view, subsistence hunting—for meat and clothing—can be managed sustainably, but commercial trade is too risky and should be banned. “The market will always push for highest price and more killing,” he says.

“Endangered species should not be the subject of profit-driven commercial trade.”


Allowing commercial trade creates a system “inherently susceptible to corruption,” says Zak Smith, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environmental advocacy group. Trading polar bear parts could influence the quota-setting process, he says, allowing the potential for profit to affect how many animals can be hunted in a given year. “This is a species that is threatened with extinction,” he adds. “Endangered species should not be the subject of profit-driven commercial trade.”

Lily Peacock, a former polar bear research and management biologist for Nunavut, says the indigenous Inuit in the upper reaches of Canada have hunted and eaten polar bears for thousands of years. Hunting should be regulated and studied, she says, but focusing on hunting—or even overhunting—ignores “the huge elephant in the room … In general, climate change is such a bigger issue than harvest, that it’s like, why take away part of someone’s culture?”

Jim Goudie is an Inuit. He’s also the deputy minister of land and natural resources for Nunatsiavut, a self-governing Inuit region. He says that when polar bears are in trouble, his people will be the first to sound the alarm—not researchers from far-off universities. “For me, if there’s no polar bears tomorrow, it’s part of my culture that just disappeared … We will be the ones to tell the world if we think there’s an issue with polar bear. We have the most to lose.”

“Just too many bears”

Nunavut’s Drikus Gissing says the situation for polar bears isn’t as dire as some make it out to be. With about 13,000 bears, he says, Nunavut, where more than 80 percent of Canada’s polar bear hunting takes place, now has more bears than ever before.

Bears and people sometimes cross paths disastrously: Last year two Nunavut men were mauled to death. One was unarmed. “We’re at a stage now where polar bears are basically overabundant,” Gissing says. “There are just too many bears.”

Indeed, shootings of so-called “problem bears” (animals killed in defense of life and property) have spiked during the past two decades, Liodden notes, up from 13 killings in 1999 to 91 in 2012—a 600 percent increase.

Nikita Ovsyanikov, a Russian behavioral ecologist and member of the IUCN’s polar bear specialist group, says that more sightings of bears doesn’t necessarily mean there are more bears but that the animals are losing sea ice and spending more time on land. “When we see many polar bears around us or close to us, close to our settlements and infrastructures in the Arctic, it is not an indication that polar bear numbers are increasing,” he says. “It is an indication that they’re in trouble.”

The IUCN’s Regehr says the claim that bears are encroaching more on humans because of sea ice losses may have validity, but it’s also a convenient explanation in the absence of precise numbers for the various bear populations. “It’s hard to know how many gophers are in your backyard,” he says. Similarly, “to count polar bears in an area of sea ice the size of Texas, I mean, that’s incredibly difficult and expensive.”

Looking to Svalbard

Liodden considers Svalbard, an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, to be a model for the future. That’s because, despite its location on the Barents Sea, which has lost more than 50 percent of its ice since the 1980s, Svalbard’s polar bears are stable. Their numbers were estimated at 241 in 2004 and at 264 in 2015. The difference between Svalbard and other polar bear habitats, he says, is that hunting has been banned there since 1973.

Because polar bears depend on sea ice for hunting, some scientists say global warming is their greatest threat.


Péter Molnár, a University of Toronto Scarborough researcher who forecasts the effects of climate change on polar bears, agrees that Liodden’s reverse selection theory is plausible. In western Hudson Bay, he says, there’s “clear evidence” that the bears are getting thinner as sea ice disappears. Polar bears rely on fat and protein reserves because they fast for months at a time, so when it comes to size, “the fatter your bear is, the better.” And, Liodden says, fatter, bigger bears are the ones hunters seek.

But according to Regehr, just because a polar bear is bigger or younger, it doesn’t mean it’s more fit. Studies have indeed shown that polar bears are getting smaller because of sea ice loss, but, he posits, it’s possible that smaller bears that don’t need to eat as much to survive may actually be better off.

For Molnár, though, the question is: “Can polar bears adapt to any of this?”

Recent estimates by U.S. Geological Survey scientists predict that because of melting sea ice, up to two-thirds of all polar bears will be lost by 2050. Even if polar bears are still around at the end of the century, Molnár says, that’s four or five generations at most, which is not enough time to evolve, whether it’s in response to climate change, hunting, or other threats.

“It doesn’t look like they’re going to be around for very much longer in most populations,” he says. “We have very strong evidence that these declines will just get worse as the climate changes. Unless we’re turning things around on that front, it’s a pretty grim and predetermined outcome.”

Inuit hunters challenge sex ratio rule for polar bear harvesting


Arviat HTO chairperson Thomas Alikasua says polar bears are digging up gravesites in his community. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Arviat HTO chairperson Thomas Alikasua says polar bears are digging up gravesites in his community. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

“What’s more valuable, a cabin, a snowmobile, or a human life?” Kivalliq Wildlife Board Vice-Chair Richard Aksawnee asks during polar bear management hearings in Iqaluit on Thursday, Nov. 15. The KWB wants public safety to be a priority in polar bear management, following the death of a man in Arviat and one in Naujaat this summer. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

“What’s more valuable, a cabin, a snowmobile, or a human life?” Kivalliq Wildlife Board Vice-Chair Richard Aksawnee asks during polar bear management hearings in Iqaluit on Thursday, Nov. 15. The KWB wants public safety to be a priority in polar bear management, following the death of a man in Arviat and one in Naujaat this summer. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Inuit hunters should not be penalized for killing more female polar bears than allowed under Nunavut’s current harvesting system, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board says.

The board wants to see a five-year ban on penalties that are currently applied when Inuit hunters exceed a ratio of two males for every one female.

That’s according to a written submission sent on Oct. 12 to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, giving feedback on the Government of Nunavut’s latest draft plan for polar bear management.

If approved by the NWMB, the new plan would replace an existing polar bear management strategy in Nunavut that predates the territory.

KWB vice chair Richard Aksawnee of Baker Lake presented that submission on Thursday, Nov. 15, the third day of a four-day hearing attended by wildlife delegates from each community in Nunavut.

In giving his submission, Aksawnee asked Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. for advice on how Nunavut hunters and trappers organizations could take legal action under the Nunavut Agreement when Inuit hunting rights are violated.

“It is the HTOs’ mandate to represent the interests of Inuit hunters and their hunting rights,” Aksawnee said. “It is extremely important that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit be more integrated.”

The KWB is suggesting that after five years without penalties, the GN could then do a conservation review to see how male and female populations are affected.

“After five years, a harvesting analysis and population survey can be done to determine what ratio of males and females were actually caught during the time period and evaluate the impact on the overall [Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear] population to determine whether severe penalizations for overharvesting females need to be reinstated,” reads the KWB submission.

If eliminating penalties on the male-female sex ratio for harvested polar bears cannot be agreed to, then the KWB says it is open to talking about other ideas—as long as those options focus on Inuit knowledge and prioritize public safety.

The hearing comes following two polar bear-related deaths in the Kivalliq region this summer, one in Arviat and one in Naujaat.

“These tragic events led to public outcries about the dangers presented by polar bears and have tested community members’ limits with how polar bear management currently is practiced,” the KWB wrote.

Given this, the KWB is also asking for a more robust polar bear-deterrent program and for conservation officers in every community.

Aksawnee echoed the concerns of other delegates who said the government isn’t treating polar bear management as a life or death scenario.

“We at the KWB, we cannot understand why the government is willing to compensate for property damage, and not a human life,” Aksawnee said. “What’s more valuable, a cabin, a snowmobile, or a human life?”

The GN currently has a program where residents can apply for funding when property is damaged by wildlife. The Workers Safety and Compensation Board does compensate active harvesters injured while hunting, and families of harvesters fatally injured in their work, a GN lawyer said.

The NWMB suggested that a full information package about this program be circulated to community HTOs in Nunavut.

There are 38 polar bear tags for the Kivalliq region now, after Nunavut’s Minister of Environment added four tags to the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation quota this summer.

The Arviat HTO is asking that tags be increased again under the current management system—where defence kills count as one tag, and a female killed outside the allowable sex ratio could count as two tags.

“The polar bears are digging up graves. This is too much,” Arviat HTO chairperson Thomas Alikasua said.

Wildlife monitors in the community see polar bears every day, he added.

As a former Arviat resident, NWMB chairperson, a former Nunavut MLA and cabinet minister, Dan Shewchuk said, “It’s scary to live in that community right now.”

A wildlife specialist for the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board said on Nov. 14 that Inuit hunters are seeing more unhealthy male bears in Nunavut. Those hunters suggest the male population is over-hunted because of the sex ratio, potentially making polar bears more aggressive without the competition and guidance of older more experienced male bears.

Submissions to the NWMB by federal groups and environmental organizations said the GN’s proposed plan for bear management overlooks the impact climate change has on polar bear populations.

“We’re not out to slaughter bears,” said the KWB’s Brian Sigurdson, who is also chair of the Rankin Inlet HTO.

But increased quotas now would mean quota reductions later, said Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for the Department of Environment.

“My experience in Nunavut is people don’t like decreasing quotas,” he said.

Wildlife officials in Nunavut are now investigating the illegal killing of four bears near Arviat that followed the summer death of Aaron Gibbons.

As Kivalliq communities share polar bear populations with Manitoba, the KWB is also monitoring a growing northern tourism industry around Churchill that could make polar bears more used to being around humans.

“In Nunavut polar bears are hunted by Inuit. In Manitoba, they are a tourist attraction,” Aksawnee said.

Millennials Are Killing Animals (and Now It’s a Trend)

Plus, creepy Colonel Sanders bearskin rugs have arrived


Finally, something millennials aren’t killing: hunting

The number of hunters in America has been on the decline since the ‘80s, but that trend is reversing thanks in part to…millennials! That’s right, the generation responsible for killing cableAmerican cheese, and breastaurants is also killing wild geese and deer — but instead of mounting antlers on their walls, they’re looking to hunting their own wild game as a source of sustainable, local meat for dishes like goose pho and beaver-tail lardo.

This Colonel Sanders bearskin rug really ties the room together

KFC’s latest marketing stunt involves Colonel Sanders faux-bearskin rugs, just in time for an ultra-creepy Valentine’s Day rendezvous in front of the fire. Tragically, this terrifying piece of home decor isn’t available for purchase, but you can win one on Reddit.


‘Extreme Conservation’ in the Most Hostile Places on Earth

Joel Berger dresses up in a bear suit to see how muskoxen in the Arctic will react, just one of the ways he’s an “extreme conservationist.”

Conserving wildlife at the extreme edges of the natural world, whether in the Arctic, Tibet, or Mongolia, presents huge challenges, from potholed roads (or no roads) to hypothermia, bear attacks, and even arrest. In Extreme Conservation, Joel Berger, professor of conservation biology at Colorado State University and scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, takes us on a journey to some of the most remote places on the planet, and introduces us to some of its rarest animals.

When National Geographic caught up with him at his home in Fort Collins, Colorado, he described how he was arrested in Russia, how climate change is bringing more and more species together in new and unpredictable ways, and why man’s best friend is increasingly a menace to wildlife.

Your work focuses on animals living in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Introduce us to some of these creatures and tell us what draws you to these places. Are you a masochist, or what?

[Laughs] Good question, Simon! I do work in places that are a little bit off the radar. A lot of people know about elephants, say, in East Africa but people don’t know much about a species that lived with woolly mammoth called muskoxen. They’re an Arctic-only species, though they are not an ox and they don’t make musk. They’re more of a goat-antelope. They live in the cold, wind-swept tundra, from Greenland across Northern Canada into Arctic Alaska, and now a little bit into the Siberian Arctic.



As we know, the world is warming. Most people believe that, even if the U.S. administration at the highest levels does not. This creates a lot of issues for cold-adapted species because they’re not used to warm weather. What happens when it rains rather than snows in the middle of winter and then everything freezes? The work I’m doing with my colleagues is both at the top of the world and at high elevations, in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. It is dealing with animals that are having problems with heat because as things warm it changes precipitation, ice, and snowfall. And these are very recent changes for these little-known, cold-adapted animals.

One of the odder things your work in the Arctic involved was dressing up as a bear and a caribou. What was that all about?

[Laughs] Most of my work has been in Arctic Alaska and over in eastern Arctic Russia. As the ice recedes, polar bears are ending up on islands and we’re trying to figure out how muskoxen are going to do with this potential predator on land. The best way as a scientist to get information is through experiments. In my case, my lab is the tundra. So I dress up as a bear and approach these groups of muskoxen to try and understand whether they’re recognizing bears. Can they tell a white bear is a polar bear versus a grizzly bear?

Occasionally, it gets dangerous. Male muskoxen are 800 pounds or so, with hooked horns, a bit like a Cape buffalo. I’m usually down on all fours with my fake cape and fake bear head. One time I was charged and I had to get rid of them fast. The fake head went flying up in the air, and the cape flew off in the other direction. Fortunately, the charging muskox got very confused as this biped stood up. All of a sudden, I was no longer a bear, but a screaming human!

Do you travel with your bear suit?

Oh, yeah, I do travel with the bear suit. [chortles] I get on an airplane and put down the fake head right next to me on the seat. The people sitting next door are either horrified or laughing. They’re not quite sure what to think! I’m as straight as can be but sometimes I break up on it, too. [laughs]

One of the surprising developments in the Arctic is the convergence of brown and polar bears. Tell us about so-called “pizzlies” and what they reveal about the changing climate.

Scientists have discovered that at least 10 different hybrid bears have been confirmed for DNA, which means we’re getting mating between brown and polar bears. Because of a warming Arctic, we’re bringing these species together. We now have grizzlies on islands in the Canadian Arctic where they had not appeared before, and we’ve got more polar bears on land scavenging whales and grizzlies scavenging those same whales. We don’t know what the outcomes are going to be. But we do know that we’ve got changing systems because of changing ice in the Arctic. And this has implications not only for the wildlife but also for the humans who subsist on the wildlife.

According to the proverb, dogs are man’s best friends. But they’re not wildlife’s best friends, are they? Talk us through some of the issues in Bhutan and elsewhere.

Of maybe 700 million dogs in the world, close to 50 percent of them are free-roaming in one sense or another. That doesn’t mean they’re totally feral but in places like Bhutan, Chile, and parts of Patagonia we’ve got dogs that are not under much control. Free-roaming dogs have been detected causing havoc in wide parts of the Himalayas and Mongolia, where they’re attacking different endangered species, from snow leopards to chiru, an antelope in Tibet that was the mascot for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There are also attacks on takin, the national mammal of Bhutan, and other species in Central Asia. We don’t see this in the West so much, where dogs are usually under control. But in many other parts of the world dogs are causing havoc to wildlife.

Like many readers, I suspect, the takin is new to me. Introduce us to this strange animal, and its equally unusual home in the valley of Tsharijathang, in Bhutan.

Takin have been described as part wildebeest, part moose, and part pig. It’s a very unusual species that is rumoured to have been the source for the legend of the Golden Fleece. It’s a large animal, up to about 800 pounds, with beautiful fur, and is part of the goat-antelope group. They occur on cliffs and steep slopes in mountainous areas in China, Bhutan, and Burma. They are secretive, living in forests down low, where they’re a prey of tigers, or up high the young can be the prey of snow leopards. We know very little about them because of the deep forest habitat they occur in. Only in summer, when they migrate very high, do they emerge from the forests, and that’s when we get the best glimpse of them.

When I started my field work with some Bhutanese colleagues they told me it’s a five-day hike to get into the area, with three 17,000-foot passes. I was in my early 60s but I was like, “OK, I’m game, let’s do it!” It was a challenging way to enter some of these pristine landscapes where herders still raise domestic yaks and some horses. Snow leopards also occur in the system, so it’s a fascinating area few people ever see. And, yes, there are takin.

It’ll soon be time to get out our cashmere sweaters again. But according to you we may also be contributing to the extinction of many animals in Central Asia, including the iconic snow leopard. Unravel the threads for us.

Ninety percent of the world’s cashmere comes from two countries: Mongolia and China. The people on the land, the herders, rightfully want to do what the rest of us want, and have a sustainable economy and support their families. But as they increase the number of goats that produce the world’s high-quality cashmere, the goats nibble everything. As a result, a half-dozen endangered species are not having access to the food they need, species like saiga, which is a very odd antelope with a dangling proboscis. Other species that are impacted include Przewalski horseskhulan, an endangered desert ass in the Gobi, and blue sheep, which are not endangered but are major prey of snow leopards. And as the herders are incentivized to produce more and more goats, the situation becomes increasingly more dire for species on the land. Nobody wants people to get impacted, so the difficulty is finding the right type of solutions that can help people on the land but still benefit the species that occur there.

Wrangel Island, in the Russian Arctic, has to be one of the least-visited places on Earth. Put us on the map and explain why you call it a post-apocalyptic landscape.

It can be accessed only by boat or helicopter. But I could not get from my sites in Alaska to Wrangel. I had to fly to Moscow, go nine times zones east, land at a port 240 miles from Wrangel, and wait for a Russian helicopter to drop me in.

I call it post-apocalyptic because not only are there polar bears, but wolves have gotten there on their own, though the nearest point on land is 80 miles away. Caribou have been brought in and reindeer, which have gone feral. Wolverines have also made it from the Siberian coastline, traversing ice and frozen seas to get there. Now you’ve got a mixture going on between hybrid dogs that now look like wolves, or wolves that look like hybrid dogs. Muskoxen were also brought over at the request of the Russian Government, when we had a good relationship with them.

We still participate with Russian scientists, despite some of the acrimony at political levels. Conservation is the province of everybody. And it’s a marvellous place to work! It’s got a lot of wildlife and may be the forerunner of what the world is going to look like as different assemblages of species come together.

You’ve done 33 expeditions, including 19 to the Arctic, seven in Mongolia and seven in Tibet and the Himalayas. Talk us through some of the highs and lows of those journeys.

[Laughs] A major high would be coming across muskoxen and polar bear tracks on one of those bluebird days when it might be 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, but no wind, and sparkling ice. One of the lows was flying from Moscow and landing in a Siberian town called Pevek. Russian Security Border Patrol folks came on, I’m the only Americanski on the plane, and I am escorted off, my passport confiscated, and taken to the police station. Everything is being done in Russian, a language I am unfamiliar with, and the only words that I understand are C-I-A. [laughs]

In Mongolia, I ended up in the emergency room because my legs were going into spasms and for three days I wasn’t able to hold any food. But one kind of sucks it up. There are many other scientists and explorers who go out there and do similar things. But we do realize that there are some trade-offs.

At the end of the book, you write, “In the absence of commitment on both global and local scales, the iconic wildlife of the world’s highest mountains and greatest steppes will cease to persist.” Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic but if that’s the view we choose to take there are going to be no chances. On a personal level, I’m optimistic! There are a lot of countries investing in conservation. Russia has stepped up with 191 islands in the Arctic that are protected as of 2016. Places in Western China the size of California have been linked together for conservation. Chile is planning to link 10 of their national parks. In the U.S., the number of people per year that go to national parks and zoos eclipses all professional baseball, football, and basketball combined. People care about nature and wildlife, and that’s why I am optimistic.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Nunavut hunter killed by polar bear and cub; 5 bears destroyed following attack


A polar bear walks over sea ice floating in the Victoria Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. RCMP say a hunter died after a polar bear attack near Naujaat, Nunavut. (David Goldman/Canadian Press)

A man from Nunavut has been killed in a polar bear attack, according to officials.

He was attacked by a mother polar bear and her cub, said Solomon Malliki, the mayor of Naujaat, the northern community from which the man and two other hunters set out last week.

The other hunters were injured in the attack.

The mother and cub were destroyed at the scene, Malliki said, as were three other bears who were attracted to the area in the following days.

The hunters were victims of a polar bear attack.– RCMP news release

“It was a heavy burden to share the sad news with our community,” Malliki told CBC News, in Inuktitut.

It was not immediately clear when the attack happened.

“One of the hunters was deceased and the two others had minor injuries,” the RCMP said in a statement. “The initial investigation has revealed that the hunters were victims of a polar bear attack.”

The three hunters left Naujaat last week to go caribou and narwhal hunting, according the RCMP. They didn’t return on Thursday as planned and were reported overdue on Sunday.

Malliki said they’d been hampered by bad weather and mechanical problems.

On Monday, the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., organized a search and rescue mission with Nunavut authorities and local community searchers.

A Hercules aircraft and multiple boats from Naujaat began searching, the statement said, but the team was not able to reach the location where they believed the hunters were, because ice was blocking their path.

Earlier Tuesday, a second Hercules aircraft and a coast guard icebreaker, CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, joined the search effort.

The hunters were found on White Island, near Naujaat. Naujaat, formerly known as Repulse Bay, is a community of about 1,080 on the shores of Hudson Bay. (CBC)

The men were located on White Island, some 100 kilometres southeast of Naujaat, by the icebreaker’s helicopter, according to a spokesperson for the coast guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“We are saddened by this incident and send our thoughts and condolences to the families involved,” said Lauren Solski in an email.

The name of the dead man has not been released.

2nd fatal attack

The RCMP said they’re investigating with the assistance of the chief coroner, and the Nunavut Department of Environment has been notified of the attack.

Naujaat, formerly known as Repulse Bay, is a community of about 1,080 on the shore of Hudson Bay.

This is the second fatal polar bear attack in Nunavut this summer. Aaron Gibbons, 31, was unarmed when he encountered a bear near Arviat in July. Community members said Gibbons was with his children at the time and put himself between them and the bear.

Bear that attacked cruise worker was skeletal, expert says; signs of its presence on beach should have been obvious, researchers who saw it the day before say


The cruise ship wasn’t trying to bring tourists ashore to look at a polar bear. The uneven landscape of the beach meant the animal could have been out of sight a short distance away – but a whale carcass and lots of bear tracks should have been a dead giveaway. The crew tried to scare the bear away before being forced to kill it. An expert researcher says it appears the bear was very thin.

A few more details were released Monday by officials and a lot more criticism was expressed –including from celebrities and other prominent people worldwide – about a polar bear that was fatally shot after attacking a cruise ship crew member in northern Svalbard on Saturday.

Twelve crew members from the MS Bremen cruise ship went ashore in two dinghies at Sjuøyane, a group of islands at the northernmost part of the archipelago, at about 8:30 a.m. to prepare for a shore excursion by tourists on the vessel, according to a press release issued by The Governor of Svalbard. Four of the crew were polar bear guards, according to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, a German company which operated the ship.

“The attack happened on shore,” Police Chief Lt. Ole Jakob Malmo said in the governor’s press release. “The victim, a 42-year old man from Germany, was wounded in the head. Two of the others in the group opened fire on the bear and killed it.”

Although the crew received widespread criticism from commenters wondering why sedation or other non-lethal means were used against the bear, Malmo said such attempts were indeed made.

“Initially, the group attempted to scare away the bear by shouting and making loud noises as well as firing a signal pistol, but to no effect,” he said.

A polar bear – almost certainly the one that was shot – was spotted the day before the attack eating a whale carcass by research expedition participants aboard the M/S Clione vessel from the Czech Republic.

“He just ate and then slept and then enjoyed being there,” said Josef Elster, director of the Czech Centre for Polar Ecology.

Jan Pechar, captain of the Clione, said an uneven surface on the beach meant the bear could have been a short distance from the cruise ship crew without being seen, but the whale carcass and bear footprints were clearly visible through a telephoto lens from the ship.

“There definitely was some proof” of the bear’s very recent presence, he said.

Pechar said he reported the bear sighting, as well as others spotted in the area during the expedition, to the governor’s office. Officials at the governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether such reports would have been available to others traveling in the area.

Although the bear was able to eat a large last meal, photos of its carcass suggest it was “quite emaciated,” Jon Aars, a polar bear expert with the Norwegian Polar Institute, told NRK.

“Polar bears can attack people, regardless of whether it is hungry or not, but there is a greater risk that it attacks people when it’s hungry,” he said.

The vast majority of criticism by outside commenters toward the cruise line was for causing the bear’s death by invading the bear’s natural turf.

“Let’s get too close to a polar bear in its natural environment and then kill it if it gets too close. Morons,” wrote British actor-comedian Ricky Gervais in a Twitter message.

An abundance of other accusatory Tweets – not all of them entirely consistent with the facts of the incident – were posted, forwarded and reported in a rapidly growing number of media outlets worldwide.

Extinction Symbol@extinctsymbol

Polar bear killed for acting like a wild animal: 

Polar bear killed after attack on Arctic cruise ship guard

Norwegian authorities said a polar bear on Saturday attacked and injured a polar bear guard who was leading tourists off a cruise ship on an Arctic archipelago. The polar bear was shot dead by…

Among the more common apparent misperceptions was the cruise line was deliberately attempting to allow passengers to view the polar bear from land (although such suspicions have been expressed by a few locals and observers at Sjuøyane noted there were bears in the area since a large amount of whale fat was on the beach where the attack occurred).

“Maybe cruise sightseeing tours shouldn’t take place then polar bear guards wouldn’t be needed to protect gawking tourists & polar bears would be left in peace & not shot dead merely to satisfy a photo-op?” wrote Jane Roberts, a British genealogist.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, in a statement, stated they do not intentionally bring passengers ashore to watch polar bears.

“Polar bears are only observed on board ships from safe distance,” the statement notes. “In order to prepare a shore leave, the polar bear guards will go to land as a group and without passengers to land, set up a land station and secure the area to make sure there are no polar bears. Once such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately.”

The cruise line stated it is working “intensively and cooperative with the Norwegian authorities for the reconstruction and enlightenment of the incident.” The governor’s office is investigating to determine if negligence or other wrongdoing was a factor in the attack.

“We expect that it will take some time to complete the investigation,” Malmo said.

Arctic cruise ship guard kills polar bear ‘in an act of self-defence’

Incident occurred when tourists from MS Bremen cruise ship landed in area known for glaciers and wildlife

MS Bremen operator Hapag-Lloyd Cruises said one of its polar bear guards ‘was attacked by a polar bear and injured on his head.’ The animal was then shot dead ‘in an act of self-defence’ by a second guard, a spokesperson said. (Gustav Busch Arntsen/Governor of Svalbard/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Norwegian authorities said a polar bear on Saturday attacked and injured a polar bear guard who was leading tourists off a cruise ship on an Arctic archipelago. The polar bear was shot dead by another employee, the cruise company said.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway tweeted that the attack occurred when the tourists from the MS Bremen cruise ship landed on the most northern island of the Svalbard archipelago, a region between mainland Norway and the North Pole that is known for its remote terrain, glaciers, reindeer and polar bears.

The German Hapag-Lloyd Cruises company, which operates the MS Bremen, told The Associated Press that two polar bear guards from their ship went on the island and one of them “was attacked by a polar bear and injured on his head.”

The polar bear was then shot dead “in an act of self-defence” by the second guard, spokesperson Negar Etminan said.

The injured man was taken by helicopter to the town of Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen island. He was not identified and no further information was given on him.

“He was flown out, was responsive and is currently undergoing medical treatment,” Etminan said, adding that the victim was not in a life-threatening condition.

She said all cruise ships travelling in the northern region are obliged to have polar bear guards on board.

Arctic tourism to the region has risen sharply in the last few years and is now in high season. A Longyearbyen port schedule showed that 18 cruise ships will be docking at the Arctic port in the next week.

Warming expert: Only decade left to act in time


Chris Carlson  /  AP

Power plants like this one in Huntington Beach, Calif., are large emitters of carbon dioxide, a gas that many scientists tie to global warming. news services

A leading U.S. climate researcher says the world has a 10-year window of opportunity to take decisive action on global warming and avert catastrophe.

NASA scientist James Hansen, widely considered the doyen of American climate researchers, said governments must adopt an alternative scenario to keep carbon dioxide emission growth in check and limit the increase in global temperatures to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

“I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most,” Hansen said Wednesday at the Climate Change Research Conference in California’s state capital.

If the world continues with a “business as usual” scenario, Hansen said temperatures will rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 degrees F) and “we will be producing a different planet.”

On that warmer planet, ice sheets would melt quickly, causing a rise in sea levels that would put most of Manhattan under water. The world would see more prolonged droughts and heat waves, powerful hurricanes in new areas and the likely extinction of 50 percent of species.

Clashing with White House
Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has made waves before by saying that President Bush’s administration tried to silence him and heavily edited his and other scientists’ findings on a warmer world.

He reiterated that the United States “has passed up the opportunity” to influence the world on global warming.

The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide. But Bush pulled the country out of the 160-nation Kyoto Protocol in 2001, arguing that the treaty’s mandatory curbs on emissions would harm the economy.

Hansen praised California for taking the “courageous” step of passing legislation on global warming last month that will make it the first U.S. state to place caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the alternative scenario he advocates involves promoting energy efficiency and reducing dependence on carbon burning fuels.

“We cannot burn off all the fossil fuels that are readily available without causing dramatic climate change,” Hansen said. “This is not something that is a theory. We understand the carbon cycle well enough to say that.”

Most scientists believe global warming is due in some measure to the greenhouse effect, which occurs when so-called greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. These gases trap in Earth’s heat like the glass walls of a greenhouse. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, are byproducts of the burning of fossil fuels.

Arctic studies
Hansen spoke as NASA released two studies that found sharp reductions in winter Arctic sea ice.

One of those studies was from Hansen’s institute. “It is not too late to save the Arctic, but it requires that we begin to slow carbon dioxide emissions this decade,” Hansen said in a statement.

Scientists and climate models have long predicted a drop in winter sea ice, but it has been slow to happen. Global warming skeptics have pointed to the lack of ice melt as a flaw in global warming theory.

The latest findings are “coming more in line with what we expected to find,” said Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. “We’re starting to see a much more coherent and firm picture occurring.”

“I hate to say we told you so, but we told you so,” he added.

Serreze said only five years ago he was “a fence-sitter” on the issue of whether man-made global warming was happening and a threat, but he said recent evidence in the Arctic has him convinced.

Summer sea ice also has dramatically melted and shrunk over the years, setting a record low last year. This year’s measurements are not as bad, but will be close to the record, Serreze said.

Shrinking Arctic ice means less sunlight gets reflected and more gets absorbed, exacerbating the problem of warming. It also threatens Arctic species, notably polar bears, said Claire Parkinson, a research scientist at the Goddard center.

The polar bear population in Canada’s Hudson Bay has dropped from 1,200 in 1989 to about 950 in 2004, a decline of 22 percent, Parkinson said at the teleconference.

Polar bears typically hunt on Arctic ice, but when ice is depleted, they will forage on land, she said. This has led to more sightings in Inuit settlements, but does not mean that the number of polar bears is increasing.