Last Tuesday, an undernourished polar bear was sighted in the Russian industrial city of Norilsk for the first time in forty years. It was believed that the polar bear had trekked hundreds of miles from its natural habitat in the Arctic to arrive in the world’s northernmost city. Video footage and pictures showed the female bear in horrific conditions with muddy paws and suffering from clear exhaustion. It was seen pawing through garbage and resting drowsily for periods at a time.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first case of polar bear sightings in human habitats this year. Earlier this year, up to fifty bears besieged a remote town in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Residents were afraid to leave their homes or send their kids to school, and the local administration stated that ‘daily life was in turmoil’. The mass invasion saw bears entering empty buildings, trying to enter residents and chasing people.
Experts have speculated that the polar bear in Norilsk could have been captured as a cub where it was then raised in captivity. Poaching of polar bears has been banned for sixty years with Russia even including the species in its ‘Red Data Book’ which comprises of animals that are known to be either rare or endangered. However, it has been difficult to administer this and cases of hunting have continued to occur.
There is another reason why these mammals are being spotted miles away from their hunting grounds – climate change. The warming of the Arctic region is twice as much as the global average, leading to melting sea ice which polar bears rely on. With the loss of ice, the species are forced to move further south. Another thing they rely on is a high-energy diet solely consisting of seals, however, as their environment is threatened, so is their main food supply. Moving south is a means of survival for the bears, a way of finding another food regime.
But the mammals are still under threat of extinction. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have estimated that there are about 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears left in the world. Scientists believe that by 2050, only a third of the polar bear population will still exist. The only solution available is to combat climate change effectively – and quickly – before irreparable damage is caused to the Arctic region. Otherwise, not only will it affect polar bears, but multiple other species and indigenous communities in the area.
Photo credit: The Guardian