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The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay “A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Mar 2014 back issue
Arctic Hunters Greenland
by Ragnar Axelsson
Last March, there was a storm warning on the East coast of Greenland.  People were warned to stay indoors as glacier storms piteraq can be very strong and deadly. I had been walking outside, photographing dogs, in the little abandoned village Cap Tobin in the Scorebysund area.  I was not planning on travelling anywhere else because of the storm warning. I had spent the past few days photographing the northern lights and huge icebergs with Inuit hunters that had been following polar bear tracks. My hunter friends, who I have followed for more than 25 years now, saw four polar bears from their little cabin.  Being hunters, who struggle to survive from day to day, they chose to follow the polar bears and try to catch one before the storm hit.  Inuits eat the meat from polar bears and sell their skins for a high price.  It is a big part of their income.  The hunters in Scoresbysund have a quota of 35 polar bears a year. We could see the bad weather coming from the glacier some miles away but I decided to follow the hunters chasing the bears across the ice for some 8km.  The ice was rough, it had broken up a few days before and almost killed two hunters who fought to escape for hours on the thin ice as it broke up all around them. In terrible conditions, I followed with my camera.  It was a struggle to keep the lenses clean from mist and snowdrift.  I was a little bit behind when the bear was shot. The hunter made his move and shot the bear twice as it ran to make its escape.   Whilst running on rough ice, the hunter lost most of the bullets out of his pocket, leaving us with only one bullet and three bears.  We had no idea if the bears would attack us or run away.  We could only hope for the latter as the ice started to crack and open up all around us. We managed to drag the dead polar bear to safer ice before having to wait for three hours until the dog sledge came to collect us and our valuable catch.  The ice was unstable and dangerous.  It took us few hours before we got to safety. The storm lasted a day and the next morning the ice where we had been walking was gone. Life for Greenland’s hunters is undergoing major change.   The ice is melting, due to global warming.   When I asked the hunters how long they thought they would be able to hunt polar bears, they looked sad, “We don´t know.  It is not us hunters who are a threat to polar bears, it is mankind who pollute too much.” Numbers of polar bears have fallen in recent years by up to a third on Greenland’s East coast.  It is thought that pollution coming in on currents from the industrialised world is causing the decline.  There is also evidence that pollution is causing an increase in human cancers on the East coast as the population relies on polar bear, seal and whale meat taken from polluted seas.   Greenland is the most expensive country in the world so it is sometimes hard for me to get there and stay for any length of time.  It is a country naturally rich in minerals gold and diamonds. It will be interesting to see the changes over the following years.  Where it all will go?  The main question is:  Will the four thousand year old tradition of the Arctic Hunters survive the changes caused by climate change and the actions of the rest of the world?
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A hunter in front of his cabin in the abandoned village Cap Tobin watches polar bears on the ice in the subtle hue from the dancing northern lights in the Arctic sky.
A hunter tracing polar bear tracks past a gigantic iceberg.
Hunters traveling on their dog sledge on the cracking pack ice.
A hunter on the ice at  Kangertittivaq (Scoresbysund´s fjord).  Kangertittivaq is the largest and longest fjord system in the world.
Inuit hunter chasing a polar bear over the rough and braking ice.  A storm was coming, making the ice unsafe and dangerous.
Hunters rest near an iceberg in the polar night with dancing northern lights and shooting stars.
A fallen polar bear on the ice. Inuit hunters in Ittoqqotoormiit are allowed to hunt 35 polar bears each year.
Arctic hunter fighting a storm on the frozen ocean on his way home to safety.
Arctic sledge-dog dancing after a long journey on the ice.
At the end of the short winter´s day the sled dogs rest in the snow in front of their masters cabin. The Arctic night takes over.
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