Polar Bear Invasion: Why 50 desperate animals have entered homes in a Russian town

Rajeshwari Ganesan
Rajeshwari GanesanFeb 13, 2019 | 17:59

Polar Bear Invasion: Why 50 desperate animals have entered homes in a Russian town

Media is flooded with stories of how hungry polar bears have been besieging human settlements of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Visuals of polar bears invading people’s homes, playgrounds, apartments, office complexes and other dwellings have flooded the news. “There’s never been such a mass invasion of polar bears. They have literally been chasing people,” Zhigansha Musin, the head of the local administration reportedly said.


Belushya Guba is a small military settlement in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Russian Arctic, which is situated in the extreme northeast of Russia’s European part and has a population of only slightly over 2,000 people.

It is now additionally housing more than 50 polar bears that have entered the village uninvited.

The Russian authorities have declared a state of emergency in the region and deployed a team of specialists to sedate and remove dozens of hungry polar bears. “The people are scared," regional officials reported in a statement. “They are frightened to leave homes and their daily routines are broken. Parents are afraid to let the children go to school or kindergarten.”

Residents are barred from hunting the animals, which are classified as a vulnerable species because of the “ongoing and potential loss of their sea-ice habitat resulting from climate change," according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that there are 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears worldwide.


However, the underlying cause of the sudden insurgence of polar bears in human settlements needs to be understood.

“To state the obvious: polar bears should not be wandering into human habitation, and certainly not in these numbers. That they are doing so in Belushya Guba shows how they are being driven off their normal migration routes and hunting trails by a changing climate. This has long been predicted — with the Arctic heating twice as fast as the rest of the planet, winter temperatures are rising and the sea ice — which is the primary habitat of polar bears — is shrinking,” writes Jonathan Watts, the Guardian's global environment editor.

This has been established by wildlife experts, who opine that polar bears in human habitation are unusual in these large numbers since humans do not form their natural prey base.

That said, any carnivore, pushed to the brink of rapacious hunger, is bound to kill — no matter whether it finds its natural prey base or not.


Russian scientists may kid themselves by saying it was unclear if the latest invasion was caused by warming seas — the signs have clearly been there for a long time now. 

On thin ice, literally: Polar bears can bear no more global warming. Climate change is hurting them. We're just next. (Graphics: India Today)

Arctic ice is thinning. Summers are getting longer, frost is setting in late — and the bears are starving.

The polar bears are battling adverse conditions — driven by changing conditions in the Arctic — according to a 2013 study published in the journal Nature. Scientists had blamed climate change as the reason for the aggressive behaviour of a sloth of polar bears back in 2016 when they had surrounded a weather station in the Arctic, threatening a team of Russian researchers.

The video of an emancipated polar bear that broke the hearts of ecologists and conservationists is a direct product of the bears losing their habitat and prey base owing to global warming.

Climate change — as has been extensively written — is no longer a “problem that the future generations will face”. It is staring at our faces even as you are reading this. Less than a fortnight ago, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) — a regional intergovernmental body —released a 600-page assessment report saying that one-third of the ice in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush (HKH) mountains will be lost due to rising temperatures by the end of the century. That's even if nations take aggressive measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Russia is merely paying the price for its carbon emissions.

It has been suggested time and again that policy-makers in Russia need to implement policies meant to sustain economic development, thereby favouring cleaner technologies.

However, according to data, Russia remains the fourth largest contributor in terms of CO2 emissions in the world after China, the USA and India in terms of total kilotons, but is ahead of the US when the Gross domestic product (GDP) is taken into account. While the US contributes with 0.33 kg of CO2 emissions per 2010 dollars of GDP, Russia accounts for 0.99 kg. Furthermore, despite the global tendency of decreasing annual amounts of CO2 emissions, Russia continues to increase its own.

It is time that President Trump and President Putin put their heads together for talks on climate change besides their reportedly secret talks on issues no one else is privy to.

Maybe they can give us a tip or two. 

Last updated: February 13, 2019 | 17:59
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