In the United States, we’re more inclined to see footage or hear reports of grizzlies while camping. Approximately 100,000 black bears call Alaska their home, and you may even catch a glimpse of these creatures from afar if you live adjacent to wooded areas. But in other parts of the world, the polar bear is the more common threat — a fact that residents in a remote Russian region have found out the hard way.
Authorities in the Novaya Zemlya islands, a region with only a few thousand residents, have now declared a national emergency after reporting that polar bears have invaded the area. The endangered creatures have been negatively impacted by climate change, which has caused their hunting habitat to slowly dissipate. Although the average snowmobiler in America drives 1,250 miles through the snow every year, the cold and icy spots on which the polar bears have relied are melting at a rapid rate. As a result, they have been forced to look for food sources on land. They seem to have lost their fear of the tactics police have used in the past. Sometimes, they’ve even ventured into private residences. There have also been reports that some of the bears have attacked people in the area.
As Alexander Minaev, deputy school administrator of Novaya Zemlya, explained in a press release: “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.”
Although officials have installed extra fencing and are utilizing military patrols to control the situation, residents say there are always at least six to 10 polar bears within the settlement at any given time. And because polar bears are classified as endangered in Russia, the federal government will not yet grant permission to issue licenses to shoot any bears that threaten human residents.
Since December, at least 52 bears have been terrorizing residents. But considering that the tactics tried by officials have not yielded a positive outcome, it’s possible that it may be quite some time before inhabitants will find peace. The government has sent a team of investigators to assess the situation, but it’s unclear as to what effect that will have. And since reports show that the Russian bears are now finding more than enough to eat (a fact inferred from their healthy body weight), there’s no real reason for them to leave as yet.
The polar bear problem certainly isn’t an isolated one. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are only 26,000 polar bears remaining on earth. If the loss of sea ice continues as it has, the organization estimates the population of polar bears could continue to decrease by up to 50%. By 2050, the World Wildlife Fund has reported, two-thirds of the world’s population of polar bears could be gone forever. Even if the Russian polar bear invaders do retreat, there’s nothing stopping the rest of the worldwide population from moving into new territories in order to find food and survive.
If the thought of an arctic invasion is more than you can “bear,” it may be time to seriously consider the negative effects of climate change. Although Putin may try to argue that this phenomenon is somehow a good thing, it’s not likely he could argue that the disruptions and the safety hazards are a positive for his people.