Are Polar Bears Really Disappearing?
I went north for a simple reason: I wanted to be a hero of the environmental movement and write a poetic obituary for a doomed species. The Center for Biological Diversity—the environmental group that sued the U.S. government to put polar bears on the Endangered Species list—had predicted that "two-thirds of the world's polar bears could be extinct by 2050."
But after months of reporting and hundreds of bear sightings, I kept running up against an inconvenient truth: There were a lot of well-meaning, well-credentialed scientists, wildlife officers and local experts who simply didn't believe that polar bears were one ice cube away from extinction. And they had the numbers to prove it.
Which was good news for the bears…even if it was terrible news for their careers as symbols of environmental doom.
Let's start with what we know. Almost everybody agrees that there are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears alive today. Here's another thing almost everyone agrees on: That number is a whole lot bigger than it was 40 years ago.
"Polar bears are one of the biggest conservation success stories in the world," says Drikus Gissing, wildlife director for the Canadian territory of Nunavut.