© Contributor: Thea Bechshoft

11/21/2013 11:48:27 PM

Inspiration on the Tundra

With polar bears all around our Tundra Buggy®, I spent the past week in Churchill partaking in the Tundra Connections program and teaching people about these bears and the serious challenges they face. The Tundra Connections program is a fantastic undertaking in science communication, executed with the purpose of inspiring people around the world by providing the opportunity to interact live online with a panel of researchers, discussing polar bears, climate change and what we can do to alleviate the current situation.

For all of you that have been or will be following the program and webcasts, I wanted to let you know that the inspiration goes both ways. Interacting directly with kids in classrooms all over the world, and seeing how deeply they and their wonderful teachers are engaged in the plight of the polar bears and the changing environment was an experience that will follow me for a good while yet. There was such resourcefulness in the younger generation and, not least, a willingness to change and an understanding that we must. I was truly inspired - by you, by my fellow panelists, and by the PBI crowd.

But human interaction was not the sole source of inspiration this week. Although still in my early career, I have studied polar bears for a decade by now. During this time, I have been lucky enough to meet and to live among the bears on Svalbard as well as the bears in East Greenland. I have seen polar bears so emaciated that they barely had the energy to lift their head and look at me as I approached, polar bears that could hardly walk because of their fat belly, polar bears courting each other on the ice, dead polar bears with not a gram of fat on their body, and chubby polar bear cubs with their watchful and protective mother. However, until last week, I had never met a Canadian polar bear, much less a polar bear belonging to the iconic Western Hudson Bay population. Yet, here they were, walking right up to our buggy and taking a long hard look (incidentally making me very happy that we were two meters above ground!), and even showing us sparring and other behaviors that I have never seen before in person. Fantastic!

Personal meetings like this - locking eyes with a wild polar bear and being in the Arctic, observing the bears in their natural habitat - is something that I often think about when I am sitting at my office desk, writing funding applications and manuscripts or cursing at the statistics software. It inspires me on a daily basis, and makes me realize time and time again how privileged I am. And how much I want future generations to get the same chance I have had, to have the opportunity to go out there, into the wild, and see these magnificent animals for themselves. Let's all pull together and make sure that there will also be polar bears outside the Tundra Buggies® in the future.

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