According to a research paper released this week, some of the world's polar bears may need supplemental feedings by humans in order to survive.
The Society for Conservation Biology released an article this week in its journal Conservation Letters outlining a plan for helping polar bears in crisis. According to 12 polar bear experts, there needs to be a concentrated effort put in place to save the 20,000 to 25,000 remaining polar bears in the wild which may include supplemental feedings by humans.
A serious problem facing polar bears is the rapidly dwindling Arctic Sea ice. The 19 polar bear populations in Russia, Greenland, Norway, Canada and Alaska may require feedings by humans to sustain them during long seasons when there is no ice. Another possibility is that some polar bears will need to be put in temporary holding compounds until environmental conditions improve.
As a last resort, some bears located in southern regions may require relocation to northern areas with enough ice to ensure their survival. The worst-case scenario facing scientists struggling to save the polar bear population is euthanasia of bears unable to be relocated or rehabilitated.
Currently, zoos around the world have difficulty obtaining polar bears because of strict regulations, however because of the environmental crisis facing the bears this may soon change. Scientists believe zoos may end up being offered as many polar bears as they can accommodate.
“We really never have been here before,” said Steve Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International.
The issue of supplemental feeding is controversial, as Amstrup explains on the website for Polar Bears International. One problem is that if the bears become accustomed to being fed by humans and the feedings stop, the bears could be at risk. In addition, Amstrup mentions the risk of polar bears associating food with humans.
If a supplemental feeding plan were put in place, it would be with the goal of distributing food for the polar bears over a large area to keep populations scattered and prevent conflicts between bears over food. The idea is one conservationists have been considering for awhile.
“If you talk to any of the polar bear biologists, you'll find that the public is already asking us about the issues we cover in the paper,” Derocher said. “I've had well-positioned conservationists waiting to start the fund-raising to feed polar bears."
“The sooner we consider the options, the sooner we'll have a plan,” he added. “The worst-case scenario is a catastrophically early sea ice break-up with hundreds of starving bears, followed by inappropriate management actions."