A video of a starving polar bear struggling to take a few steps has gone viral after being shared by the filmmakers who recorded the gut-wrenching moment.
The animal's agony was caught on camera by a team from the National Geographic as part of a mission taking place in the Canadian Baffin Islands this summer. Uploaded to Instagram by seasoned biologist and photographer Paul Nicklen, the video has since been viewed more than one million times.
Famished and clearly close to the end, the emaciated bear drags its bony frame in an attempt to scavenge for food – but to no avail. As the photo's caption reads: "This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death."
A "soul-crushing scene", the photographer explains that the large male polar bear was not old but simply unable to find enough food to sustain it. With the sea ice on which the bears usually hunt for seals melting at an alarming rate – due to global warming – the animals are moving closer to grizzly-bear populated areas to scavenge for scraps.
As hard as the clip may be to watch, for Paul Nicklen these images have one purpose: to show the world exactly what it looks like when a species dies out. As he explains:
"When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner."
And sadly, there was no happy ending for this bear. With no tranquillizer gun and no adequate food on-hand, Paul and his team were forced to simply film the scene "with tears rolling down [their] cheeks" as a cautionary tale so that the bear would not die in vain.
As he goes on to note, the solution lies not with those on location but with all of us. He says:
"We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first."
The founder of ocean protection agency Sea Legacy, Paul concludes his post by urging us all to support the work of those fighting to find solutions for the animals which rely on the world's oceans.