National Geographic : 2000 Dec
Their world an unending playground, the triplets romp and roll at the feet of their protector (below). On a more frigid day an attentive female encircles her cub with maternal warmth (right). With the windchill pushing the temperature to minus 60°F, I am reduced to warming equipment and frozen fingertips against the engine of my idling snowmobile, while a roll of film shatters like glass in my hands as I try to load it. Under these conditions the trick is to work carefully and slowly, though some great moments will pass unrecorded. Sadly, all is not well in the bears' realm. While park boundaries and hunting quotas have helped protect the animals from guns, new threats arise. Chemical pollut ants now contaminate the food chain, and mining and offshore drilling could degrade bear habitat. Recent warming trends in the southernmost reaches of polar bear range have accelerated pack ice melting, cutting short the bears' spring seal hunt. How they and other Arctic wildlife will fare under these changing conditions remains uncer tain. For the moment I see only a noble survivor on the landscape, protecting her young from Arctic wind and other hazards of life on the ice. Knowing the unseen threats to her kind, I am fortunate to have had a glimpse of her world. ] How close can you get to a mother polar bear? To find out, watch an interview with Norbert Rosing at national geographic.com/ngm/0012.