Russian authorities have deployed a team of specialists to the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic region to sedate and remove dozens of hungry polar bears that have been chasing people in the area, The Guardian reported on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in the region.
“There’s never been such a mass invasion of polar bears,” said Zhigansha Musin, the head of the local administration. “They have literally been chasing people.”
Musin’s deputy Alexander Minayev said people were scared and afraid of leaving their homes. “Parents are unwilling to let their children go to school or nursery,” he added. An Instagram user uploaded photos and a video of the hungry bears.
Novaya Zemlya was used by the Soviet Union to conduct nuclear tests, The Washington Post reported. In 1961, it was the site of the largest-ever man-made explosion, which released 50 megatonnes of power and deepened the country’s arms race with the United States.
According to the American newspaper, at least 52 bears were found near Belushya Guba, the main settlement on the island, which is still used as a military garrison. The town had a population of about 2,000 during the last census in 2010.
Russian news agency TASS reported that the animals tried to enter office buildings and residential quarters, and engaged in other aggressive behaviour. Extra fences have been installed near kindergartens to ensure children’s safety while special vehicles are taking military personnel and other residents to workplaces. However, these measures seem to have failed as the bears are not afraid of signals used to scare them off, or patrol cars and dogs.
Polar bears are typically born on land but live mostly on sea ice, hunting seals. With Arctic ice thinning, caused by climate change, the ravenous animals move to land, thereby coming into contact with humans.
The Russian environmental watchdog has refused to issue licences to shoot the bears, which are classified as vulnerable by the World Wildlife Foundation. The team of experts dispatched to the archipelago hope that firearms will not be needed to warn off the animals. However, if those measures do not help solve the situation, killing the animals might be the only and forced answer, the TASS news report added.