Polar bears at risk of extinction due to avian influenza

Avian influenza H1N1 which could lead the species to extinction

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Polar bears at risk of extinction due to avian influenza
© Jeff J Mitchell / Staff Getty Images

Polar bears, already seriously threatened by the climate crisis that is devastating their natural habitat, are now in new danger. Avian influenza H1N1 which could lead the species to extinction. Over the past few years, avian influenza has become increasingly common among birds.

Now scientists have discovered that the virus has also reached Alaska, near the city of Utqiagvik, killing a polar bear. This is the first known case among Arctic animals.

Polar Bear© Thomas Niedermueller / Stringer Getty Images

Scientists, including Alaska State Veterinarian Dr.

Bob Gerlach, said experts had noticed clear signs of inflammation and disease early on. "We can say with virtually certainty that the bear died from this disease. The number of mammals reported with infections continues to grow.

The biggest concern is that we don't know the full extent of what the virus can do in polar bear species," he explained. In the case of the polar bear examined by the experts, the cause of the infection was probably found in the food: the animal perhaps fed on some dead or sick bird, which was infected with the virus.

It is not possible to know if this case is isolated or if there are other infected bears that have escaped detection. The new variant of H5N1 has rapidly spread throughout the world, affecting numerous animals of very different species.

For polar bears, as well as other Antarctic creatures, avian influenza could create significant problems.

Polar bear already a critically endangered species

The polar bear lives in the Arctic and its habitat is included in 6 countries: Canada, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, Norway and Iceland.

The current population of polar bears is estimated at around 20-25,000, of which 60% is in Canada. As evidence of this, the 2 Canadian dollar coin features a polar bear. Man remains the real danger for this species: every year more than 1000 bears are killed, both by the Eskimos, who feed on their meat and exploit their fur, and by hunters.

But it is the climate crisis and the resulting global warming, caused by man, that have pushed the species to the brink of the abyss, due to the loss of its natural habitat.