In northern Russia, dozens of polar bears are terrorizing communities across the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The regional government has declared a state of emergency due to the “mass invasion of polar bears in residential areas,” according to Russian state news agency TASS.
A statement released on Saturday by the regional government said: “Residents, schools and kindergartens are submitting numerous oral and written complaints demanding to ensure safety in the settlement. The people are scared. They are frightened to leave homes and their daily routines are broken. Parents are afraid to let the children go to school or kindergarten.”
Alexander Minayev, the deputy head of the Novaya Zemlya administration, told TASS that dozens of polar bears had gathered around communities between December and February. Near the settlement of Belushya Guba, at least 52 polar bears have been spotted. Minayev said that polar bears have even attacked people and entered into residential homes and offices.
According to TASS, extra fences have been constructed near schools, while military employees are traveling to work in special vehicles. The area is being patrolled, but the bears are showing no fear of the patrol cars or other tactics used to scare them off such as dogs.
TASS said that a team of experts will be deployed to explore ways of preventing further attacks on humans, but the team hopes that firearms will not be needed to gain control of the endangered species. Meanwhile, the Russian environmental watchdog has announced that it will not issue licenses for shooting aggressive polar bears.
As sea ice continues to melt, the natural habitats of polar bears will become more and more limited. They will be forced to hunt for food elsewhere, which means the bears could have an increasing presence among humans.
Ilya Mordvintsev, a researcher at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, told TASS that this trip to Novaya Zemlya is part of the polar bears’ seasonal migration. She explained that they are sticking around this year for the food.
“Compared to previous years, they come ashore in the southern part of the archipelago, where the ice is changing. They migrate through Novaya Zemlya heading north, where the ice is solid,” said Mordvintsev. “It is migration from the south to the north. They are staying in that location because there is some alternative food.”