Close quarters with a cannibal
Iain Williams is a freelance Wildlife and Nature Photographer based out of Hobart, Australia. His exclusive photos of a polar bear eating a cub were published as a slideshow on www.reuters.com. Below, Iain recounts how he came to take the photographs. The opinions expressed are his own.
Michael Perry, our chief correspondent in Australia, added a caption that referenced a vast global study in 2008. That study, published here, said that human-generated climate change had turned some polar bears into cannibals
A male polar bear carries the head of a polar bear cub it killed and cannibalized in an area about 300 km (186 miles) north of the Canadian town of Churchill November 20, 2009.
To photograph polar bears in the wild requires considerable pre-planning. I engaged Frontiers North to assist with the logistics to approach polar bears at close quarters in sub-zero temperatures. Before I departed, I knew what I wanted to achieve – images that would help to show the plight of the polar bear in relation to global climate change.
On the day I captured these images, I observed ravens engaged in what appeared to be antagonizing behavior towards a large male polar bear. On closer inspection I realized that the ravens were pecking at bits of a carcass that the bear was consuming. Circling the male bear was a smaller female polar bear that appeared to be exhibiting major signs of stress; her gait was unwieldy, her head was swaying from side to side and she was making continual low vocalizations. It was only after some time that I realized the carcass was in fact a first year baby cub and the circling bear was the mother.
A male polar bear cannabalizes a polar bear cub November 20, 2009.
After the male bear had finished consuming the carcass and moved away, the female bear approached the carcass, sniffed at it, and picking it up gently within her jaws, she proceeded to carry it away – where to is unknown as I could not follow her.
A male polar bear carries the head of a polar bear cub it killed and cannibalized November 20, 2009.
Photographing such an event is always psychologically traumatic as the cute and fuzzy image of an animal is transposed into an animal eating to survive. It’s at this time that you must concentrate on acquiring the images with a steady hand and remove all emotion from the equation. The images were taken with a Canon pro-body camera using an assortment of lens from 500 to 300 mm.
With the climate change conference being held in Copenhagen, I knew the images I had taken were topical and I had minimal time to publish them for maximum impact. The images were posted to my blog and my website after which, I approached Reuters for global syndication.
The remains of a polar bear cub stain the snow after it was killed and cannibalized by a male polar bear November 20, 2009.