First polar bear dying of bird flu triggers concerns amid climate change
First polar bear dying of bird flu triggers concerns amid climate change
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This is the first recorded case globally of a polar bear dying from the virus reported by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Polar bears, the largest living bear species, are considered threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The polar bear was found dead in far northern Alaska, it was likely the bear had eaten a dead bird when it contracted the virus.  


Alaska has previously reported infections in a brown bear and a black bear, as well as in several red foxes. This incident illustrates the widespread reach of the virus, now affecting even the most remote areas of the planet. Right now, it's not clear just how much polar bears are relying on birds as a food source, or how many polar bears could be infected. 


Rampant avian flu that has impacted millions of poultry birds and thousands of wild birds in the U.S. alone has now killed a polar bear for the first time ever recorded. The virus is a new threat for many wild mammals. H5N1 was first detected in the Antarctic region in October, affecting brown skua on Bird Island, off South Georgia. This was followed by numerous deaths of elephant seals, fur seals, kelp gulls, and more skuas. The virus poses a significant ecological threat, particularly if it reaches unique and isolated species like penguins.


H5N1 is highly pathogenic, meaning it can cause severe disease and high mortality rates. There are 19 populations of polar bears around the Arctic, and they all face different environmental conditions, overlapping with different bird populations too, so their exposure to avian flu is likely to vary, the impact will probably vary too. If the infection spreads, it could be dangerous for the Arctic population which is already facing challenges from climate change.

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