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On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear    by Richard Ellis order for
On Thin Ice
by Richard Ellis
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

With an apt title for a book about the fate of the polar bear, Richard Ellis' On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear looks at how this icon of the Arctic is in danger of going the way of other creatures whose habitat has been dramatically altered over time.

As global warming threatens the ice caps' integrity, the great white bears' numbers are rapidly diminishing as well. Some estimates suggest that the polar bear population has shrunk by half and today they number about 22,000.

Ellis' investigation of the plight of these majestic creatures looks at their past history, and what the bears' role has been in Eskimo culture, and how they fit into the ecology of the north. He also discusses the fascination that these creatures have for man and how they have been the subject of trophy hunting trips and been captured for display in the world's zoos.

In the closing chapters, the immediate problem of the bear's changing habitat is addressed along with the more troublesome question that asks, 'Is the polar bear doomed?'

One of the solutions to the polar bear problem that Ellis points out is seriously flawed is the hair brained idea of transferring the poor bears to the Antarctic.

'Millennia of evolution have honed the bears' systems to coincide with the seasons and sunlight of the North, and relocating polar bears to the Antarctic would engender a permanent case of jet lag. Every hormonal and behavioral stimulus keyed to the seasons would be reversed ... they would be in a state of confusion,' the author explains. He then goes into more detail on all the other problems a move of this nature would cause.

Well illustrated and filled with a great deal of interesting information about the polar bear, this book does end on a sour note because the creatures are literally treading on thin ice. The future, unfortunately, doesn't look very reassuring for them either, even if they can manage to adapt in some manner to the rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic.

'The great bear, dominant over its environment as no other wild creature ever was before or since, now finds itself threatened by the careless and uncaring predator that has usually at the expense of the natural world become the only creature in history that can drive other species to extinction and modify the earth to suit his needs,' writes Ellis. He concludes the book by saying he hopes polar bears will be around long enough so that his grandchildren can see them in the wild. I'm afraid that may well be just wishful thinking!

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