Friday, March 09, 2007

Counting the polar bears a heated issue

News from The Standard, China

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Pictures of a polar bear floating precariously on a tiny iceberg have become the defining images of global warming - but they may be misleading.

A new survey of the animals' numbers in Canada's eastern Arctic has revealed that they are thriving because of mankind's interference in the environment. In the Davis Strait area, a region of 140,000 square kilometers, the bear population has grown from 850 in the mid-1980s to 2,100 today.

"There aren't just a few more bears - there are a hell of a lot more bears," said Mitch Taylor, a biologist who has spent 20 years studying the animals. His findings back the claims of Inuit hunters who have long claimed that they were seeing more bears.

But critics point out that his study was commissioned by the Inuit-dominated government of Nunavit. Critics claim it has an agenda to encourage polar bear hunting and keep the animals off the endangered species list.

Bear experts said numbers have increased not because of climate change but due to conservationists. The battle to ban the hunting of harp seal pups has also meant seal numbers have soared, boosting the bears' food supply.

"I don't think there is any question polar bears are in danger from global warming," said Andrew Derocher of the World Conservation Union and a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "People who deny that have a clear interest in hunting bears." THE DAILY TELEGRAPH