February 27, 2023
Last month, we sadly had to say goodbye to Berlin, the oldest polar bear in captivity in the United States (and a Kansas City Zoo resident). The average life expectancy of a polar bear is 30, and many don’t make it past their 18th birthday in the wild, so Berlin’s passing at 33 means that she had a much longer life than most of her bear friends.
February 27 is International Polar Bear Day. In celebration of this day (and in remembrance of Berlin), let’s talk a little bit about this beautiful, yet threatened, species. To start with, polar bears are big…really big. A male can weigh as much as 1,700 pounds and reach a height of 10 feet when standing on its hind legs! They are the biggest four-legged predator in the world. And yet they start off so tiny, weighing only 1.5 pounds at birth. Most polar bears are born as twins, which is good considering that three out of four cubs don’t make it to their third birthday.
And did you know that the skin of a polar bear is not white, but jet black? Their fur is also translucent and only appears white because it is reflecting visible light.
They are phenomenal swimmers, using their huge forepaws as paddles and their hind paws as rudders. In fact, polar bears are considered marine mammals because they depend on the ocean for their food and habitat, spending most of their lives on the Arctic ice. This is why the loss of that ice due to climate change has helped land the polar bear on the Endangered Species List. As the ice goes, so does the bear.
So how can we help to save our polar friends? Remember: knowledge is power. The more we know about these great animals, the more we can do to save them. So on this International Polar Bear Day, here are some things we can do to help:
- Since the polar bear’s fate is tied up with its environment, helping to fight climate change is the first thing: recycle, drive less often, use energy efficient light bulbs, and turn off electronics when you are not using them. These are some of the easiest things to do!
- There are many charities that are devoted specifically to helping polar bears. Find one of these organizations and donate your time and/or money.
- Raise awareness. Some people still don’t know the dire straits the polar bears are in. The more people know, the more they may want to help.
And for more information, check out these great books:
- Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior by Andrew E. Derocher
- Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species by Ian Stirling
- Polar Bears by Lesley A. DuTemple
- The Life Cycle of a Polar Bear by Rebecca Sjonger
- Polar Bears by Mark Newman
Let’s hope that in the future more polar bears can have a long life like Berlin.
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