Elisabeth Kruger has an extraordinary job. She is Arctic and Bering Sea program officer for the World Wildlife Fund. This means she spends her time face-to-face with some of the world’s most beautiful and endangered species. We had a chat about her conservation work.

On the job!

Before joining WWF, I received a degree in Russian from Grinnell College in Iowa and then headed to Siberia, where I lived and worked near Lake Baikal. I became fascinated by the unique ecosystem there and began to volunteer for local conservation organisations. After four years, I was thrilled to find a place with WWF, where I get to live in Alaska and work on conservation.

Now, my daily responsibilities include working with Russian and Alaskan stakeholders to find solutions to the threats that face the common marine ecosystems of Alaska, Kamchatka and Chukotka. That could be wild salmon, polar bears or other marine mammals.

For polar bears, my work concerns the prevention of human-polar bear conflict. I work with men and women in Alaskan and Chukotkan coastal villages to identify tools that they’d like to have for resolving polar bear encounters. These tools mean they can protect themselves without threatening the life of the bears.

The closest I’ve been to a polar bear is when I once had to help carry a yearling cub into a helicopter so that we could fly it closer to its mother. The cub weighed about 200lbs, and it took two US Fish and Wildlife Service scientists and me to lift him. My responsibility was the head, so I had to be very careful as we moved through the deep snow to the helicopter. The scientists had tranquilised the cub’s mother to gather data for their research. Whenever they find a mother with cubs, they tranquilise the mother first and then the cub because the cubs won’t leave their mother, even if she is immobilised. We wanted the bears to wake up together so they wouldn’t lose each other and this required airlifting the cub to his mother.

The things I love most about polar bears are that they’re resilient, solitary and charismatic. They are an integral part of an ecosystem that stems from algae under the ice and extends up to polar bears and the people who have been living there for thousands of years.

I haven’t been to the North Pole, but I have been to the exact intersection of the Arctic Circle and the International Date Line between the US and Russia.

One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had was seeing whales breach. I also love spending time in Arctic villages.”

Find out more about our partnership with WWF, and donate to Arctic Home here: ArcticHome.ie.