Polar Bear Hunting & Taking Down Caribou Captured for First Time Ever on Video

by Jennifer Shea

Biologists on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago captured the first-ever footage of a polar bear hunting a caribou, or reindeer, near the Polish Polar Station.

The endangered animals usually go after seals in the Arctic Circle. But as the sea ice up there continues to melt, polar bears are spending more time on land, where they are forced to take down other prey.

As biologists watched, a female killed a caribou as it tried to escape. The incident took place in August of last year, the Daily Mail reports.

See the footage here.

Caribou Population Has Been Climbing

Polar bears didn’t used to go after caribou. The biologists believe the change in behavior is due not only to the depletion of sea ice but also to an abundance of caribou. The latter’s population in the Arctic has been climbing for three decades. And to one of the hungry predators, they’ll do.

In a paper published in Polar Biology, the biologists wrote that anecdotal evidence suggests polar bear attacks on caribou are becoming more frequent.

“Pre-2000 sources state that polar bears do not attack Svalbard reindeer,” the biologists wrote in their paper. “This report is the first description and documentation of the complete course of a polar bear hunt for adult reindeer in Hornsund, SW Spitsbergen, and also of the bear’s hunting behavior and the reindeer’s response.”

Polar Bears Are Endangered Due to Environmental Issues

Environmental pollutants, including PCBs and mercury, get into the bears’ systems through the natural food chain. They travel from plants into fish into seals, which the bears then typically eat. (Those chemicals used to be key components of industrial and electrical products as well as building materials.)

The pollutants bond to the bears’ fatty tissue. Then the bears use up their fat stores during winter. The chemicals are released, wreaking havoc with the bears’ thyroid function, immune system and reproductive system, according to the Endangered Species Coalition.

Global warming also poses an existential threat to polar bears. Sea ice is their habitat. And they rely on it for hunting grounds, den sites and corridors between the two. Moreover, water temperatures are rising faster in the Arctic than in other parts of the planet.

The loss of sea ice forces them to traverse longer distances for food. So they use up more of their fat stores than they should, resulting in stress and even death. Worryingly, the loss of sea ice is also pushing polar bears closer to human civilization.

The apparent uptick in caribou kills by polar bears is one adaptation to these changes, but absent other protections, it’s probably not enough to reverse the polar bears’ decline. Still, for one resourceful bear on the Svalbard archipelago, it was enough for one decent meal.