Emaciated and dragging an injured leg, this polar bear is unlikely to survive long. It is thought the female bear was hurt while hunting a walrus and the injury has led to a struggle to find food.

The animal was captured on camera by nature photographer Kerstin Langenberger. She says the picture symbolises the plight of the polar bear. Miss Langenberger, who is based in Germany, posted the image of the ‘horribly thin’ injured bear on Facebook last month, and it has now been shared more than 41,000 times. The photo was taken in Norway’s Svalbard region, a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean where tourists often go to see polar bears in their natural habitat. She claims the picture is also evidence of the retreating sea ice, which she thinks is affected by global warming.

Females are particularly affected as they tend to stay on the pack ice with their young and have an increasing struggle to find food, she wrote. She added: ‘Only a few times I have seen beautifully fat mothers with beautifully fat young. Many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females – like this one here.

‘A mere skeleton, hurt on her front leg, possibly by a desperate attempt to hunt a walrus while she was stuck on land.’ But Ian Stirling, a polar bear researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada, told the website Mashable that people should be careful about blaming climate change for the bear’s condition.

He said the bear was more likely to be old, sick or hurt – not starving because of a lack of prey or ice. ‘You have to be a little bit careful about drawing conclusions immediately,’ he said. ‘The bear may be starving, but it may just be old.

A difficulty hunting could be involved.’ He said the injury could have played a role in its weight loss. ‘I don’t think you can tie that one to starvation because of lack of sea ice,’ he added. The Norwegian government estimates that, as of 2004, there were nearly 3,000 polar bears in the Svalbard and Barents Sea region.