Dozens of polar bears have “invaded” a village in Russia’s far north in search for food, prompting “bear patrols” around the village and halting public activities, officials said. Environmentalists say climate change might be to blame.
The number of polar bears that have descended on Ryrkaypiy, in Russia’s Chukotka region, has grown over the last few days and on Friday there were about 60 of them, Tatyana Minenko, head of the “Bear Patrol” of the village, told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
The bears are eating the carcasses of walruses that have remained on the village’s shores since the fall, the Russian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said Thursday in a statement.
“Almost all bears are thin,” said Minenko, as quoted in the WWF statement. “Among them are both adult and young animals, there are females with cubs of different ages,” she said.
Polar bears could often be seen in the area around the village, but such “overcrowding” that happened just over the course of a few days is rare, WWF said.
Volunteers and residents have started patrolling the area around the village, as well as public areas in the village, like schools and kindergartens, to avoid encounters with the unexpected guests, WWF said. All public events have been canceled and children are transported to school in buses, WWF said.
“The psychological situation in the settlement [Ryrkaypiy] is complicated, women worry, because their children walk to school,” Anatoly Kochnev, scientist at Russia’s Institute of North’s Biology Studies, told state news agency TASS.
Just five years earlier, not more than three to five bears would come close to the village, Kochnev said. Ryrkaypiy has a population of about 500 residents, according to TASS.
“We try to control the situation, but nobody would want to think what may happen there in 3-5 years,” Kochnev said. “If walruses abandon the cape or if their population reduces, polar bears would not stop to be there, but — they will be hungry.”
He said so far bears have usually remained calm when they come close to humans. The last time a bear killed a human in Ryrkaypiy was in 2011, according to TASS.
Warmer temperatures to blame
Scientists say the unusually warm weather in the area is causing ice to melt and affecting the bears’ hunting habits.
“If the ice was strong enough, the bears, or at least some of them, would have already gone to sea, where they could hunt for seals or sea hares,” said Mikhail Stishov, coordinator of WWF-Russia projects for the conservation of Arctic biodiversity.
“Similar situations are becoming the norm,” he said. “We need to adapt to this so that neither people nor bears suffer. ”
The village of Ryrkaypiy is situated near the shore of the Arctic Ocean and faces Wrangel Island, known to be a “maternity house” for polar bears, according to TASS.