When I was growing up I always had a soft-spot for arctic animals. In fact, until I left home for college, a giant blue and white tapestry depicting a family of polar bears adorned the wall above my waterbed. Something about these huge animals always fascinated me, and the Coke campaigns of the nineties with the computer-animated smiling polar bears just made them look so darn cute. It’s hard to believe that these adorable looking creatures are actually the largest land predators on Earth! With only 25,000 remaining in the wild, International Polar Bear Day gives us a chance to learn about the threatened species and its struggles with climate change and poaching.
Chris and I planned to celebrate today’s “unofficial” by reading about the polar bear, and making a trip to the National Zoo. Both of us had fond memories of visiting the zoo, and the polar bear exhibit, but neither of us had been in years. A few hours after we woke up (Chris slept in his favorite pajama pants last night — they’re covered with polar bears!) we headed up to Washington D.C., and arrived at our destination around 1:30, which gave us about 3 hours to explore the national treasure before closing time. There was only one problem — when we approached the entrance map we noticed there was no mention of polar bears. A little google-ing revealed that the exhibit had been closed! We were both disappointed, but determined to see real-life polar bears, so we revised our plan, got back in our car, and headed to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, about an hour away. During our drive I read about today’s celebrated animal (aloud so Chris could participate while driving).
I was honestly surprised by how little I knew about the polar bear. I knew they were a threatened species, but I had no clue that their numbers were so few. I also was surprised to find out that their hair is actually clear, not white, and that there is no place where they cohabitate with my other favorite cold-weather animal, the penguin. Or that the polar bear can actually mate with the brown bear and bear (no pun intended) fertile offspring — it just doesn’t happen in nature since their natural habitats are so different. And apparently, as cute as the family on my tapestry may have been, you wouldn’t really see that in the wild. Male polar bears essentially live as bachelors and the females do all the hard child-rearing.