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Bears on top of the World (BBC)

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IN RECENT months, the BBC has come under fire for, shall we say, certain indiscretions by those who should have known better – and rightly so. However, when it comes to natural history programmes, it cannot be faulted – as Polar Bears and Grizzlies – Bears on top of the World bears witness – no pun intended!

This beautiful and thought-provoking film follows the fortunes of a mother polar bear, a mother grizzly bear and their newborn cubs, in a rapidly changing world.

We have, of course, known for some time that the shrinking Arctic ice is making life more difficult for polar bears but what few of us have realised is that it’s offering new opportunities for grizzlies to the south. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that in summertime, the two now meet along shores and islands almost all the way to the North Pole. And amazingly, they have even interbred – there are DNA samples to prove it.

Bears on top of the World opens our eyes to the plight of the polar bear with some stunning photography. And it begins in the natal den with the mother licking the membrane from her new born cub. Sadly, its twin died shortly after birth, in all likelihood, the victim of a mother deprived of food by the retreating ice.

We didn’t see what happened to the unfortunate cub but I suspect it went the same way as the placenta. What we did see, however, was the mother’s tenderness as she enfolded her newborn cub in the warmth of her body. Quite how these images were filmed I can’t imagine but they do give a remarkable insight into the lives of these equally remarkable creatures.

The twin grizzly cubs were older when we first saw them but watching them play and learn from their mother’s example was pure delight. And they really aren’t so very different from our own children who learn just as much by their own mistakes as they do from the advice we give.

For the moment, however, it’s the grizzly that is most adaptable – perhaps because the polar bear was born out of the climate change that came with the last ice-age. Then, most grizzlies headed south. Those that stayed, adapted to the harsher environment and became the polar bear we know and love today. Sadly, they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a grizzly and so miss out on some of the important protein rich foods (clams, for example) that their southern ‘cousins’ relish. Instead, they resort to raiding rubbish tips. A sad sight indeed.

But the story is not without hope. Both polar bear mother and cub survived – at least for now. But who knows what the future holds – with the Tundra becoming greener and ever more inviting, it’s not only the bears and other forms of wildlife that will exploit its potential – it’s also man. And we all know what that’s doing to the tiger…

Like this review? Then read our review of The World Of The Polar Bear