Building life-sized polar bears to call attention to their plight

Polar bears are a remarkable species; they have survived numerous ice ages and evolved to become the largest land carnivores in the world, sitting at the top of the food chain in the savage but biologically rich Arctic.

In Canada, so ubiquitous is the polar bear to the country that the Canadian Toonie (two-dollar coin) features the image of a polar bear and both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut license plates in Canada are in the shape of a polar bear. It is not surprising therefore that it was the chosen mascot for the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary.

However, despite thriving over many millennia and numerous changes to the planet, they are today facing their most serious challenge – the fight against extinction.  There are now only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining in the wild. Condemned by man-made climate change, and commercial hunting, there is a real chance that the polar bear will be extinct in 25 years.

So, why is the polar bear in grave danger?

It mainly faces threats such as habitat loss due to global warming and continuing human incursions into the Arctic, pollution, hunting for sport as well as trade in body parts. The bear has been hunted since times immemorial by indigenous Arctic people, including the Inuit and Eskimos in Alaska and Canada and Yupiks, Nenets, Chukchis and Pomors in Russia. But they never hunted the species in excess of their requirements.

Trouble started with white European expansion and colonisation of the Arctic which brought modern hunting practices and the notion of supply and demand of bear parts dictated by market forces. Everything has gone downhill after that.

In response to this crisis, Patrick Vossen, manager of Belgium design firm Axis 71, has decided to raise awareness of polar bears and support IFAW’s efforts to protect the species. His company has designed and build life size adult polar bears ((1900x1150), along with baby polar bears (640x460). These bears are to be sold with some of the proceeds used to support IFAW’s conservation efforts.

Mummy Bear

Baby Bear

My Baby Bear Plate

The design of these sculptures is striking – simple yet spectacular. Vossen went on to say, “It is time to act now, to protect our bears and preserve our planet for the generations to come.”

This joint awareness project comes soon after a disappointing global decision on the protection of polar bears; despite its strong links to polar bears - the Canadian government seems to have abdicated responsibility for their protection. At the most recent CITES meeting it succeeded in derailing the protection of polar bears.  

What this will mean for the possibility of greater protections for polar bears at the next CITES Conference in 2016 is unclear, but signs are discouraging.

Unfortunately also EU countries like the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK supported by South Africa, Mexico (all entities that opposed greater protections for polar bears at the last Conference) have left the bears in the cold…

As we begin the homestretch to the next CITES Conference of the Parties, awareness raising efforts such as these will play a role in ensuring governments take responsibility for the survival of this species.

--SV

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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