As Arctic temperatures have warmed, making sea ice and hunting habitat more scarce, polar bears are increasingly venturing into human habitats instead. A few years ago the mammals threatened a group of scientists at a Russian weather station and this week dozens of the predators have invaded a small town, forcing a state of emergency.
“The emergency situation was caused by the mass invasion of polar bears in residential areas,” reads a press release from the government of Russia’s Arkhangelsk Region, which includes the Arctic archipelago Novaya Zemlya, where over 50 of the bears are reportedly stalking around the perimeter of the town of Belushya Guba.
The animals have attacked people and entered homes and offices. At any given time there may be between six and ten bears roaming within the boundaries of the settlement since December.
“People are scared, afraid to leave the house, their daily activities are disrupted, parents are afraid to let their children go to schools and kindergartens,” said Novaya Zemlya deputy school administrator Alexander Minaev in a translated version of the release.
Extra fences and military patrols have been put in place to try and keep the situation under control, but the bears are growing accustomed to the lights and sounds used to scare them off. Polar bears are listed as endangered in Russia and the federal government’s environment agency has so far resisted giving permission to shoot the threatening individuals.
“I have been on Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but never before has there been such a massive invasion of polar bears,” said education administrator Zhigansha Musin.
Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt their prey, but shrinking Arctic ice is increasingly driving them on to land… and into contact with people.
Last month a polar bear was shot and killed when it wandered near the Alaskan town of Arctic Village, well beyond the animal’s normal range.