Communities in a remote Russian Arctic archipelago have been overrun by dozens of hungry polar bears, forced onshore by thinning sea ice and restricted access to food. At least 52 polar bears have been seen since December near Belusha Guba, the main settlement in the Novaya Zemlya island chain, with several bears entering buildings and homes.
“I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there have never been so many polar bears in the vicinity,” Zhigansha Musin, a local official, told TASS, Russia’s state news agency.
Officials in Novaya Zemlya, located at 74 degrees North, declared a state of emergency on February 9. “People are scared,” the regional government said in a statement. “They are frightened to leave their homes and their daily routines are broken. Parents are afraid to let the children go to school or kindergarten.”
Videos and photos on social media have shown the bears entering homes, school yards, and businesses, and large clusters of bears have been seen near Belusha Guba’s garbage dumps. Several attacks on humans have been recorded.
Russia allows very limited hunting of polar bears, and so far environmental authorities have not granted an exception on Novaya Zemlya. Instead, a team of experts is being sent to the region to drive the bears out using non-lethal means and help keep residents safe. But TASS reports that if “those measures do not help solve the situation, a cull will remain the only and forced answer.”
For more on how climate change is increasing human-polar bear conflict, click here.