Human activities pose many threats to bears and their environment, namely habitat destruction, hunting, pollution and human-induced climate change.
The brown bear has the widest distribution of all bear species. It requires large areas of wilderness to survive and numbers have plummeted in Europe and North America due to loss of habitat. The Eurasian brown bear is the smallest member of this species and numbers are restricted to small pockets of mountain woodland. In the Slovak Republic, Born Free encourages farmers to use dogs rather than guns to protect their livestock from the perceived threat of bears and other predators.
Global warming is considered to be the polar bears’ greatest threat and causes ice to melt earlier and freeze later. Bears have less time to hunt, have a longer summer fast and wait longer to resume hunting, causing loss of condition and potential conflict situations when hungry bears come in contact with people. Polar bears are hunted throughout most of their range. Although regulated in Canada and banned in Russia, illegal hunting is difficult to control and traditional ‘subsistence hunting’ is unregulated.
The Arctic has been exploited for its mineral wealth and is threatened by pollution and mining for petrochemicals. There is concern as to the extent to which these activities affect polar bears . Other potential problems include contamination of ice, water, food species and bears themselves by toxic chemicals, pollutants and nuclear waste.
Five of the eight species of bears are threatened or endangered. There are around 22,000 polar bears, of which 15,000 are in Canada. The IUCN¹ Red List, which lists all rare species, describes the polar bear as ‘conservation dependent’ and efforts are needed to ensure its future.