Russian officials may choose to kill more than 50 polar bears who have been making their way further into populated areas recently, possibly due to a decrease in sea ice attributable to climate change, the Independent reports. The affected region has declared a state of emergency in response to the bears, which until now had largely kept to themselves and caused minimal difficulty for the local human population.
Lately, however, driven by melting sea ice across their habitat, the polar bears have ventured deep into local villages, entering homes and even attacking residents. The region, known as Novaya Zemlya, is home to about 2,000 people, with approximately 560 living in the recently besieged village. Aleksander Minaev is the deputy head of the area.
“People are scared, afraid to leave their homes, their daily routines are being broken, and parents are unwilling to let their children go to school or kindergarten,” Minaev said. Other local officials have indicated that in their lifetimes they have never seen anything like what is happening in the area now, citing an incident in 2016 in which a group of scientists were challenged by a small group of encroaching bears as perhaps an early indication that things were changing with respect to the animals.
Polar bear invasion on Novaya Zemlya as 50 wild animals besiege remote town, and chase people. State of emergency called, locals are told they cannot shoot endangered species scavenging for food at local dump https://t.co/j7nI40QZOK pic.twitter.com/yv3FYu8Nof— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) February 10, 2019
The suggestion of culling the bears through an organized government-coordinated hunting effort is not one taken lightly in the area, with polar bear populations dwindling in general and the animals officially designated as “vulnerable” from an ecological standpoint. It is illegal to hung polar bears in Russia, though the government does have the authority to step in to address an extreme case such as this one.
Scientists have cited climate change as a major contributor to the increasing vulnerability of polar bears and other arctic animals, pointing out that steadily melting sea ice is diminishing the bears’ natural habitat and affecting their traditional food supplies.
As a result, more and more bears are making their way further inland in search of food, increasing the likelihood of encountering humans and even invading established populations like the village.
Zigansha Musin, who has lived in the area since 1983, says he’s never seen anything like the recent influx, warning that the polar bears are “literally chasing people and even entering the entrances of residential buildings.”
Locals have fired guns into the air, blared their car horns, and built fences to help ward off the creatures, thus far to no avail. As bears come and go, locals report that at any given time, four to six bears are in within the confines of the village.
Time will tell if the bears will move on or if the aggressive tactic of culling the population will be required.