The last kings of the Arctic

Polar bears may disappear as rapidly as the great buffalo herds from the American prairies. By Steve Connor

A A A

They may look cute and playful but these polar bears are the biggest land carnivores in the world and, as the top predator in the Arctic, they have a reputation for actively hunting humans. Pregnant females gave birth in November or December and many will still be buried in their snow dens to escape the worst of the Arctic winter, ready to emerge with their cubs next month with the first hint of the spring thaw. The rest of the estimated 22,000-strong population of polar bears roam in "walking hibernation" in anticipation of the winter's end.

These exceptional pictures of the polar bear were taken by the American photographer Steven Kazlowski who has spent the past 16 years travelling to the Arctic. The result is a unique photographic record of the region's biggest terrestrial beast, which Kazlowski has documented in his book The Last Polar Bear. "My hopes are that people will understand there is an environment as amazing as the one that great buffalo herds once roamed across North America, and that it's changing extremely rapidly because of the way we have chosen to live as a society, and its not too late for us to make some smart choices," he said.

Polar bears feed mainly on seals, which they hunt on the Arctic Ocean ice. But as rising temperatures cause the sea ice to shrink further each summer, the beasts find it increasingly difficult to eat enough for them to build up the necessary fat reserves which see them through the winter. An international assessment of the 19 sub-populations of the polar bear found in 2005 that five were in decline, five were stable, two were increasing and the state of the remaining seven could not be determined due to lack of data. Last year, the US Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The polar bear is perfectly adapted to temperatures that can plummet to -50C. Its two coats of fur and thick layer of blubber ensure little heat is lost. The bear's vast paws are armed with sharp claws, as well as fleshy bumps or papillae that prevent slipping on ice, and it can sniff out a seal several miles away.

"The intelligence and social abilities of polar bears is quite something," Kazlowski said. "I have watched polar bears break holes in ice to thaw out frozen meat, and they can wait for days at a seal hole without moving, which puts them in my mind to be a more Zen-like animal."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business StudiesTeacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Bu...

***Are you a Support Worker? or a Youth Worker? ***

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The RoleDue to demand we are cu...

**SEN Primary Teacher Serf Unit **

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...

ICT Teacher - NQTs encouraged to apply

£110 - £130 per day + TBC : Randstad Education Reading: ICT Teacher needed up ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past