Polar bears 'facing extinction'

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The Independent Online

Global warming will wipe out wild polar bears within 60 years, a report will predict this week. By 2060, climate experts believe Arctic pack ice will have melted so much that all of the existing population of 22,000 polar bears will starve because the animals they feed on, such as seals, will be difficult to find.

Global warming will wipe out wild polar bears within 60 years, a report will predict this week. By 2060, climate experts believe Arctic pack ice will have melted so much that all of the existing population of 22,000 polar bears will starve because the animals they feed on, such as seals, will be difficult to find.

By 2080, forecasters from the Norwegian Polar Institute believe, the last of the Arctic pack ice will disappear.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) drew attention to the bears' plight in 1999, saying they are "living on borrowed time", and climate changes are their main risk. It is calling on political leaders – and particularly America – to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which would slow global warming by reducing greenhouse emissions.

Polar bears need the spring pack ice as support for their dens and to enable them to travel large distances in search of prey, particularly seals. But that ice has thinned by 40 per cent in 20 years, from an average thickness of 4.8 metres (16ft) to 2.7m (9ft), Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, says. He is working on an Arctic climate and ice prediction study for the European Union.

As the pack ice thins it reduces the areas bears can hunt. Thin or broken ice is more tiring to walk over, so they have to travel further to get the same amount of food. For cubs, that can be the difference between life and death.

The largest population of breeding polar bears lives between Norway and Greenland, but that ice cover could be gone by 2050, researchers at the University of East Anglia say.

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