Page last updated at 06:28 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Poster bear, zoo star and Lost

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Polar bear in zoo
Polar bears are often at the centre of controversy

It has become the poster bear of the fight against global warming and was popping up more and more during the Christmas holidays.

The polar bear, its plight, its size, shape and life in the frozen north seems to have gripped the public's imagination.

Polar bears have also been at the centre of controversy about the keeping of animals in zoos.

And a CGI version terrorises the characters of a hit US television show.

The polar bear, as a charismatic and much admired creature, has been adopted as an Arctic icon to motivate action to tackle climate change
Diane Walkington

Diane Walkington, head of species at conservation body WWF-UK, said the polar bear was an iconic emblem of the Arctic.

She said: "The species has also become symbolic of climate change and all that we stand to lose if we fail to preserve the Arctic's fragile future, as well as other critical ecosystems around the world.

"Based on extremely conservative forecasts about the future loss of sea ice, scientists have estimated that two-thirds of today's polar bear population could become extinct by 2050.

"This loss would also have wider impacts on many other Arctic dwelling species and the indigenous people who live there, and on the Arctic's ability to help regulate the planet's climate.

"The polar bear, as a charismatic and much admired creature, has been adopted as an Arctic icon to motivate action to tackle climate change."


A mysterious Pacific island on which the passengers of a crashed airliner, Oceanic flight 815, fight for survival must rank as one of the most unusual places to find a polar bear.

But one - of the computer generated variety - appears on the fictional island at the centre of US hit series Lost.

A scene from ABC's series Lost
Lost features time travel, a smoke monster and a bear
Now in its penultimate season, the bizarre twists and turns of the series have included time travel, a 19th Century sailing ship called The Black Rock, rat runs of underground bunkers, a cursed lottery winner and people trying to escape their pasts.

The lives of the Oceanic survivors are threatened by the sinister Others, a smoke monster and a bad guy played by Alan Dale aka Jim Robinson in Neighbours.

However, striking fear in the hearts of many of the characters is the polar bear. A skeleton of one is also uncovered in the Sahara Desert and appears in the pages of a comic book read by one of the young airline passengers.

CGI bears also feature prominently in film The Golden Compass based on the books by Philip Pullman.


Knut - a polar bear at Berlin Zoo - has drawn crowds in their hundreds but also an anonymous death threat as he became the focus of fierce debate over the keeping of animals in zoos.

Knut as a cub
Knut became a celebrity following his birth in 2006
After his birth in 2006, Knut suddenly became an international celebrity, drawing huge crowds to the Berlin Zoo and the cub even appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In 2007 alone Knut generated more than 5m euros (4.2m; $6.3m) in extra income for Berlin Zoo, from the sale of tickets, cuddly Knut toys, T-shirts and other Knut-branded items, the German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported.

Thomas Doerflein, the zookeeper who dedicated himself to bringing up Germany's celebrity polar bear, died suddenly last September.


North America's polar bears were a feature of the US presidential election.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin drew flak from wildlife lovers during last year's battle for the White House.

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin had hoped to become vice president
A keen hunter, she backed legislation to encourage the aerial hunting of wolves, as a "predator control" measure.

She also opposed the US government's listing of a variety of animals as endangered, including the polar bear and the beluga whale.

And unlike Mr McCain, she actively supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which provides habitat for the bears.

Democrats Barack Obama and John Biden won the election.


A 16ft (5m) sculpture of a polar bear and cub stranded on an iceberg was pulled along the Thames to raise awareness of climate change in January.

Polar bear and cub sculpture
Sculpture of a polar bear and cub on the Thames
The structure was launched in Greenwich, south east London, before being pulled by a tug to Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.

The stunt was to highlight the plight of the Arctic mammal which is facing extinction due to global warming.

A team of 15 artists spent two months working on the 1.5 tonne sculpture.

Wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough said at the time: "The melting of the polar bears' sea ice habitat is one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.

"We need to do what we can to protect the world's largest land carnivores from extinction."

WWF previously warned that polar bears could be extinct within 20 years if there was not a slow down of global warming.


Polar bear sculpture
The polar bear sculpture on the Ness Islands
The sight of polar bear cuddly toys, ceramic ornaments, Christmas tree ornaments and adorning festive bowls and mugs seems to be more common each Christmas.

The large white bears - and the world they inhabit - fit the bill for that time of year.

A polar bear sculpture covered in festive lights was a feature on Inverness's Ness Islands during the city's Winter Festival in 2008.

The event had to be cancelled early after vandals struck.

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