LIFE

Polar bears’ climate woes

Feeding on trash:A file photo shows polar bears feeding at a garbage dump near Belushya Guba in Russia.AFPALEXANDER GRIR

Feeding on trash:A file photo shows polar bears feeding at a garbage dump near Belushya Guba in Russia.AFPALEXANDER GRIR  

As Russia raises its Arctic footprint, conflict with the rare species is likely to go up

Last month’s visit by roaming polar bears that put a Russian village on lockdown may be just the beginning.

As Moscow steps up its activity in the warming Arctic, conflict with the rare species is likely to increase.

More than 50 bears approached Belyushya Guba, a village on the far northern Novaya Zemlya archipelago, in February. As many as 10 of them explored the streets and entered buildings.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency for a week.

Photos of the incident went viral, with some observers blaming officials for ignoring a sprawling garbage dump nearby where the animals feasted on food waste.

But polar bear experts say the main reason the Arctic predators came so close to humans was the late freezing of the sea. It was this that kept them from hunting seals and sent them looking for alternate food sources.

And as Russia increases its Arctic footprint, pursuing energy projects, Northern Passage navigation and strategic military interests, experts expect more clashes between humans and bears.

“Development in the Arctic will definitely increase conflict with humans, especially now that the polar bear is losing its life platform in several regions and coming ashore,” said biologist Anatoly Kochnev.

Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago of two islands between the Kara and Barents seas, is an example of Moscow’s new frontier that falls inside the polar bear habitat.

Bears in the Barents Sea are seeing the fastest ice reduction of the species’ range, having lost 20 weeks of ice a year over the last few decades, according to Polar Bears International.

Ice reduction

“Ice monitoring shows that previously, ice near Belushya Guba formed in December,” said Ilya Mordvintsev, Severtsov Institute, Moscow.

“For thousands of years, they migrated this time of year to hunt seals. This year they came to the shore and there was no ice.”

Since the incident, ice has formed and the bears have left land to hunt, he said. “But it’s impossible to rule out a repeat of the situation in the coming years.”

Along the Northern Passage, constant use of icebreakers through ice where seals give birth affects populations of seals which bears feed on.

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