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Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Largest Land Carnivore - Polar Bear

The polar bear is recognized as the largest land carnivore species on the planet. An adult male can weigh up to 680 kilos or as much as 10 men. Polar bears can be found all through the Arctic Circle and adjacent land masses. These magnificent creatures have evolved unique features for Arctic life. Temperatures can fall to minus 40 degrees Celsius and stay that way for days or even weeks. But the polar bear is superbly equipped for such a freezing climate; the bear has a layer of blubber, of almost 10 cm thick which helps keep it warm, whereas two coats of fur help maintain body temperature. A wooly undercoat maintains the bear insulated, and of course outer hairs repel water. The white coat usually turns yellow with age.

Water is a refuge for the polar bear, its scientific name Ursus maritimus means sea bear due to the animal’s native habitat. The polar bear spends its life in the ocean and hunting primarily along the perimeter of the polar ice pack. The polar bear is an excellent swimmer; it swims in a dog-paddle fashion using its large forepaws to propel through the water. It can swim up to 6 miles per hour, and travel during long distances without rest. But it often returns to land to hunt. The polar bears most common hunting method is called still-hunting. When hunting a seal, the bear uses its well-developed sense of smell to find a seals breathing hole, and crouches nearby in silence for a seal to appear. It can detect the seals as far as 1.6km away and buried under 0.91 m of snow. Seals have to surface every 15 minutes to breathe, but they often use diverse holes. So the bear may have to wait for days for a meal to come up for air. When the seal exhales, the bear smells its breath, reaches into the hole with a forepaw, and with a heavy downward lunge, it punches through snow and ice, surprising its hidden quarry and drags it out onto the ice.

The polar bear is an extremely powerful predator. Although stereotyped as being voraciously violent, they are generally cautious in confrontations, and regularly choose to escape rather than fight. Fat polar bears hardly ever attack humans, whereas hungry polar bears are very unpredictable and are known to kill and occasionally eat humans. Running can be one of the worst reactions when encountering a polar bear, it often provokes an attack. Just one blow from its massive 30 cm paw can kill a person immediately. Being nosy animals and scavengers, polar bears explores and eats garbage where they come into contact with humans. Polar bears may attempt to eat almost anything they can find, including dangerous substances such as plastic, car batteries, hydraulic fluid, and motor oil.

Out of all the outstanding creatures on this planet, the polar bear is among the list of animals that I admire the most. Global warming is, with grave concern, a major threat to the polar bear because the habitat loss diminishes its ability to find enough food. If climate trends persist, these creatures may become completely destroyed from their range within 100 years. The polar bear has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

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