Utne Blogs > Environment

Polar Bears: Up Close and Personal

by Cally Carswell 


Tags: Environment, global warming, polar bears, wildlife photography, Alaska, Steven Kazlowski, Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul Pioneer Press,

In his new book, The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, wildlife photographer Steven Kazlowski set out to capture the polar bear in all aspects of its life. He told Minnesota Public Radio that accomplishing this meant bearing 80-mile-per-hour winds and 40-below temperatures for weeks on end and being very patient. At one point, Kazlowski spent 17 days camped outside a mama bear’s den waiting for her to emerge from hibernation. But the fruits of his effort were worth it: When that mama bear finally left the den to hunt, Kazlowski had the rare opportunity to photograph her den from the inside.

Polar bear's den

He also captured some remarkable ways polar bears negotiate their fragile environment. In one photo, a bear drags its back feet instead of walking on all fours to prevent itself from breaking through thin ice.

Bear dragging feet

Photos like this one speak to the challenges polar bears and other wildlife face in a warming arctic. Before a recent event at the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, Kazlowski told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he has "found that being a wildlife photographer and an activist are one and the same." He said he hoped to "show people how beautiful this place is," as well as show them the environment in transition. The book's cover image shows two bears standing precariously at the edge of fragmented sea ice, and the book also includes a shot of a polar bear in captivity with this caption: "If we do nothing as a society, and the ice continues to melt, zoos could be the only place on Earth where polar bears can be found."

Last Polar Bear Cover

You can see many more of Kazlowski's polar bear photographs at his website.

Images courtesy of Steven Kazlowski/lefteyepro.com.