Keeping Polar Bears Alive
Dr. Dan Guravich made up his mind to form Polar Bears Alive on July 2, 1991. We were eating lunch at Bathurst Island in the Canadian Arctic while perched on a tundra hummock overlooking Polar Bear Pass. It was a typical summer day: wind 30 knots out of the north, temperature 33 degrees Fahrenheit, sleet stinging our faces. Polar bear weather.
The Canadian-born biologist was holding forth on his favorite topic: the remarkable mammal known as the polar bear, which he had come to admire and respect in the course of decades of observing and photographing the species.
"No one understands them," he complained, around a mouthful of cheese sandwich. "The public thinks of them as vicious, sneaky killers not worth protecting. I've been trying for 15 years to get people to give them a break. No one will listen."
He was right, of course. Polar bears don't vote or pay taxes or form political action committees. They can't speak on their own behalf or defend themselves in court.
"You need a forum," I suggested. "An organization ... a group with enough legal standing and money to compel attention to what you have to say. Look what Greenpeace did for whales. Where would birds be without the Audubon Society? Polar bears need an official spokesperson."
Guravich looked down the Caledonian River toward its mouth in Bracebridge Inlet, a few miles away in the gloom. A polar bear had been seen there earlier in the day. A shaft of sunlight broke through the overcast sky and illuminated slopes decked out in purple saxifrage. Musk oxen grazed placidly on the distant slopes. Long-tailed jaegers wheeled overhead in rapturous mating flights.
"You're right," he said. "It's the only way to exert a positive influence on behalf of polar bears." And he added, "I'll do it."
His decision, made at that moment, was actually the product of years of growing concern for the welfare of Ursus maritimus, the great sea bear of the North. In 1976, through his photographs, Guravich was among the first to call attention to the population of polar bears living in and around the Manitoba town of Churchill by the shores of Hudson Bay.
In the course of more than 50 trips to the Arctic, he observed the pressures visited on polar bears throughout the Far North. As his personal knowledge of polar bears grew, he began to realize that their welfare would be enhanced if both science and the general public were better informed about the species.
There were so many questions to which there were no reliable answers.
How does increased human pressure on polar bear habitats affect bears? Can polar bears catch fatal diseases, such as distemper, from the seals on which they feed? How many polar bears can you kill before the long-term viability of the species is damaged? Are there better alternatives to the present rules and regulations under which polar bear populations are managed? What are the physiological mechanisms that allow polar bears, the world's largest non-aquatic carnivores, to live and prosper in their deep-freeze environment? What is the role of the polar bear in maintaining ecological equilibrium in the Arctic? If rules prohibiting international traffic in polar bear parts are relaxed, how many more polar bears will hunters kill?
To obtain answers and make people aware of them, Polar Bears Alive was chartered in California as a tax-free nonprofit corporation in 1992. Not surprisingly, Guravich was elected president by a board of directors that serves without pay. All money contributed by caring individuals goes to support the aims of the organization.
An unusual organization, PBA focuses on one animal and one ecosystem. "Save polar bears," notes Guravich, "and you go a long way toward saving the entire habitat of the circumpolar North."
Additional german informations can be found here.
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