SHE was once an Ice Queen – the Arctic’s apex hunter – but now she is nothing more than a walking skeleton covered in dirty white fur.
This tragic polar bear cuts a pitiful sight as she hunts desperately for food on the ice floes with an injured front leg.
Her injury may have been a result of a desperate struggle with a walrus – a favourite food item for a fighting fit polar bear in its prime.
The photograph was taken by German-based Kerstin Langberger on Svarlbard, the Norwegian archipelago where polar bears are believed to be staving off the pressures of global warming which is impacting on other populations across the Arctic.
Yet for female polar bears, life is tough. Retreating ice means hunting for seals and walruses is becoming increasingly difficult on the frozen floes.
Explaining on Facebook how she took the photograph and her conclusion that global warming poses a serious threat to the biggest land carnivore on the planet, she
says: “For tourists and wildlife photographers, the main reason to come to Svalbard is to see polar bears. And yes, usually we find them: beautiful bears, photogenic bears, playfull or even at a kill.
“At first glance, everything is as it has always been in one of the most easily accessible polar bear populations of the world, strongly protected and doing good, so some scientists say.
“But are they really doing good, the bears up here? I am a critically minded person, and I observe. I see the summers being so pleasant and warm as never before.
“I see the glaciers calving, retreating dozens to hundreds of metres every year. I see the pack ice disappearing in record speed. Yes, I have seen bears in good shape - but I have also seen dead and starving polar bears. Bears walking on the shores, looking for food, bears trying to hunt reindeer, eating bird’s eggs, moss and seaweed.
“And I realised that the fat bears are nearly exclusively males which stay on the pack ice all year long. The females, on the other hand, which den on land to give birth to their young, are often slim.
“With the pack ice retreating further and further north every year, they tend to be stuck on land where there’s not much food. In the first year, they lose their first cub. In the second year, they lose their second, and last, cub. Only once I have seen a mother with a nearly independent cub. “Only few times I have seen beautifully fat mothers with beautifully fat young.
“Many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females - like this one here. A mere skeleton, hurt on her front leg, possibly by a desperate attempt to hunt a walrus while she was stuck on land.
Experts claim the Svalbard population is stable, even rising. Well, here comes my question: how can a population be stable if it consists of less and less females and cubs?
“How can a population be doing good if most bear will score a body index of 2-3 out of 5? Only once I have seen a bear getting a big fat “5” but several times I have seen dead bears and bears like this one: a mere “1” on the scale, doomed to death.
“I do not have scientific data to proof my observations, but I have eyes to see - and a brain to draw conclusions.
“Climate change is happening big deal here in the Arctic. And it is our decision to trying to change this. So: let’s do something about the biggest threat of our time. Maybe we cannot save this bear here. But every little action we do to change our ways is a step in the right direction. We just have to get started and keep on going.”
There are estimated to be up 25,000 polar bears spread across 19 separate populations, stretching from western Alaska to eastern tip of Siberia. The WWF says last year three groups were in decline, one was increasing, six stable and nine were data deficient.