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The Loneliest Polar Bear
Cover of The Loneliest Polar Bear
The Loneliest Polar Bear
A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World
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“A moving story of abandonment, love, and survival against the odds.”—Dr. Jane Goodall The heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of an abandoned polar bear cub named Nora...
“A moving story of abandonment, love, and survival against the odds.”—Dr. Jane Goodall The heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of an abandoned polar bear cub named Nora...
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  • “A moving story of abandonment, love, and survival against the odds.”—Dr. Jane Goodall
     
    The heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of an abandoned polar bear cub named Nora and the humans working tirelessly to save her and her species, whose uncertain future in the accelerating climate crisis is closely tied to our own


    Six days after giving birth, a polar bear named Aurora got up and walked away from her den at the Columbus Zoo, leaving her tiny squealing cub to fend for herself. Hours later, Aurora still hadn’t returned. The cub was furless and blind, and with her temperature dropping dangerously, the zookeepers entrusted with her care felt they had no choice: They would have to raise one of the most dangerous predators in the world by hand. Over the next few weeks, a group of veterinarians and zookeepers worked around the clock to save the cub, whom they called Nora.

    Humans rarely get as close to a polar bear as Nora’s keepers got to their fuzzy charge. But the two species have long been intertwined. Three decades before Nora’s birth, her father, Nanuq, was orphaned when an Inupiat hunter killed his mother, leaving Nanuq to be sent to a zoo. That hunter, Gene Agnaboogok, now faces some of the same threats as the wild bears near his Alaskan village of Wales, on the westernmost tip of the North American continent. As sea ice diminishes and temperatures creep up year after year, Agnaboogok and the polar bears—and everyone and everything else living in the far north—are being forced to adapt. Not all of them will succeed.

    Sweeping and tender, The Loneliest Polar Bear explores the fraught relationship humans have with the natural world, the exploitative and sinister causes of the environmental mess we find ourselves in, and how the fate of polar bears is not theirs alone.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover Chapter 1

    Abandoned

    She weighed scarcely more than a pound, roughly the size of a squirrel. Her eyes and ears were fused shut. Her only sense of the world around her came from smell, and her nose led her in one direction: toward the gravity and heat of her mother, a six-hundred-pound polar bear named Aurora.

    Their den was made of cinder block, painted white and illuminated by a single red bulb in the ceiling. The floor was piled high with straw. The air, heavy with captive musk and kept artificially cool to mimic the Arctic, was pierced periodically by the cries of Nora, a pink-and-white wriggling ball of polar bear, tucked into the folds of her mother’s fur.

    The tiny cub slept a lot, waking only to nurse, which she did greedily and often, with a soft whir that sounded like a tiny outboard motor. She suckled even in her sleep, her curled tongue lapping at the air.

    Around nine o’clock on the morning of Nora’s sixth day, Aurora rose, stretched, and ambled out of the den. The cub was completely reliant on her mom, alone and vulnerable without her. As the chilly air crept in around her, Nora cast her head from side to side, screeching as she searched for something familiar, something warm. When she found no answer to her cries, she began to wail.

    Outside the denning compound, three women monitored what was happening. Zoo veterinarian Priya Bapodra peered at a grainy, red video—a live feed from inside the polar bear den—as a pixelated Nora squirmed on the screen in front of her. Zookeeper Devon Sabo took notes. Carrie Pratt, a curator, looked on. For five days, the women had worked in rotating shifts, keeping a twenty-four-hour watch on Nora, craning their necks to discern what was happening on the video monitors and pressing headphones to their ears, listening for any signs of distress.

    When Nora was born, on November 6, 2015, she was the first polar bear cub to live more than a few days at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which had opened in 1927. The den where she spent her first days was nothing like where she would have been raised in the wild, but it was as close as humans could muster in the suburbs of central Ohio. Nora’s birth in that concrete den represented all the ways humans and polar bears were inextricably tangled—for better and for worse. To some, Nora would become the wild north, made approachable, an ambassador for a species few would ever see in the wild. To others, she was the physical embodiment of the political battle over whether humans were causing irreparable harm to the planet, a question settled by science long before her birth. Whether she liked it or not, she and her species had become the sad-eyed face of climate change. She represented the damage humans had done to the earth, and she offered the thinnest hope of setting things right.

    But to the keepers in the trailer, she was not an ambassador or a symbol. Nora was a helpless cub who was in peril.

    And so, at 8:55 a.m., as Aurora took one step away from Nora and then another, the women steeled their nerves and tried to stay calm. Aurora had left Nora alone before, but only for brief periods. In the wild, a mother polar bear never leaves the den, even to eat. The eight-year-old mother wandered down a hallway, past the food her keepers had left for her, and toward the other side of the enclosure. Sabo made a note in the log:

    “Aurora gets up and goes into pool room.”

    Soon after, phones around the zoo buzzed. An alert went out over a text message thread to the rest of the animal care team, letting them know something was amiss. Ten minutes passed. Maternal instincts...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 7, 2020
    Journalist Williams debuts with an informative and heartfelt portrayal of the Arctic in distress. At the center of the story is a polar bear cub named Nora who was born at Ohio’s Columbus Zoo in 2015, abandoned by her mother, and subsequently raised by a devoted team that, among other things, donned wet suits to coax her to swim. “Every cub—wild or captive—shoulders a share of the burden of a species in peril,” Williams writes, and, indeed Nora became famous as “the sad-eyed face of climate change” and drew 250,000 visitors to the zoo in six months. She also serves here as a jumping off point for Williams’s exploration of climate change. He describes an Alaskan Inupiat village where rising temperatures have impacted hunters and surveys “all the ways humans and polar bears” are “inextricably tangled,” skillfully interweaving the dramatic survival struggle in the Arctic with the no-less-emotional work of conservationists who have used polar bears to bring “the far-flung realities of climate change” home to the U.S. This page-turner is sure to captivate animal lovers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a touching story. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary.

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The Loneliest Polar Bear
The Loneliest Polar Bear
A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World
Kale Williams
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A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World
Kale Williams
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