Victor Alm — Zoological Manager
Whether you agree that it is occurring or not, you have most likely have heard about global warming or the changes in our planet’s climate. But, what many of us associated with the Oakland Zoo may not have heard of, especially since we do not have polar bears in our collection, is an organization called PBI. PBI stands for Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the polar bear and polar bear habitat through research, stewardship, and education around the world.
Now why would I bring up the terms of global warming/climate change and polar bears together? Well since some of the most convincing and evident examples of a warming climate are seen in the arctic and the arctic sea ice, one of the main habitat components for the polar bear. The two are linked and are running headlong towards each other very quickly and with some potentially devastating results. Polar bears rely heavily on the arctic sea ice for movement, breeding, hunting, and to a smaller degree denning for the birth of their cubs. When you combine this with a rapid decline of this sea ice (since the 1980s), due to a warming climate, you start to see the problem and why the polar bear is now listed as a threatened species under the endangered species act.
So, why am I telling you all about this and why should those of us associated with the Oakland Zoo care about climate change, polar bears, and PBI? Polar bears, despite being on the front lines of the climate change debate and often the poster child of the environmental climate change movement are not the only species that could be affected by climate change. A changing climate has implications for numerous species in many habitat types all over the world.
For example, the Lesser Flamingo, a species we exhibit here at the Oakland Zoo, are being or will be affected by climate change through loss of or alterations in the size and quality of their wetland habitats. Flamingos, not unlike the polar bear, are dependent on their preferred environment for food, breeding, and raising their young. Similar stories can be heard about salmon, penguins, sea turtles, and numerous migratory birds. So despite being focused on climate change matters related to polar bears, PBI and the strategies and tips they endorse to help mitigate climate change, make sense and can have lasting effects for a lot of other animals.
To help reach their goal of having a measurable impact in the preservation of the polar bears artic habitat by 2015, Polar Bear International is sponsoring PBI leadership camps. These camps are reaching out to those individuals who want to advocate personally or through their employer for conservation and sustainable lifestyles that help combat the effects of climate change. Campers will gain knowledge about climate change and its impacts first hand from scientists, educators, and community members that will transform them into climate change/Arctic ambassadors that are inspired and empowered to make a difference for polar bears and all species that face our changing world.
I am lucky enough to be one of those campers and will be attending climate change leadership camp in early October. I hope to return with the knowledge and drive to get the Oakland Zoo involved in the campaign to educate and make measurable impacts for the preservation of polar bears and the numerous other species that are grappling with the issue of climate change. I feel that our world continues to struggle and grapple with the numerous issues that affect wildlife around the globe such as invasive species, climate change, pollution, habitat change/destruction, and exploitation. However, I strongly feel that you do not need to look far and wide to grapple these global problems. Through local efforts and local involvement in these issues we can address and tackle them one small step at a time. I hope that through my own efforts in local wildlife rehabilitation, head starting, and conservation along with recycling and reusing I can lead by example and take one small personal step. I hope through my continuing education on climate change and the messages and action plans that come from my time at PBI camp that I can take another step and bring many others with me.
To learn more about Polar Bears International, Climate Change, Climate Change Leadership camp, and some things you can do to help in this issue please visit www.polarbearsinternational.org. Also please follow me and my experiences at camp by checking the Oakland Zoo Blog (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog) as well as the camp blog found at the Polar Bears International website listed above.