A remote Russian Arctic archipelago has declared a state of emergency over an “invasion” by more than 50 polar bears, confining many of the 3,000 inhabitants to their homes.
Authorities in Novaya Zemlya have appealed for help to tackle the 52 bears which have been regularly visiting the archipelago’s main settlement, Belushya Guba.
In comments reported by AFP, Deputy Chief of Administration Alexander Minayev said some bears were displaying “aggressive behaviour” including “attacks on people and entering residential homes and public buildings.”
He added: “There are constantly six to ten bears inside the settlement. People are scared, they are afraid to leave their homes… parents are frightened to let their children go to schools and kindergartens.”
Though the Federal Environmental Resources Agency has refused to issue licences to shoot the most aggressive bears, the Arkhangelsk regional authorities claim that if all else fails, “shooting the animals could be the only possible forced measure.”
Footage and images posted on social media show the bears nonchalantly wandering through apartment corridors, squaring up to pet dogs and milling around in a children’s playground.
The Siberian Times reports that shooting in the air, sounding car horns and erecting fences have all failed to curb the bear invasion and a team of specialists is en route to the archipelago to assesses the situation.
But Zhigansha Musin, the head of the municipal administration, told Russian media on Monday that some headway has been made. He said: “We are chasing the bears away with the tools that we have. Their number is now smaller than 50 but we can’t calculate accurately due to the weather.”
He added special transportation had been arranged to take children to and from kindergartens and troops to military garrisons.
According to the WWF, the survival and protection of the polar bear habitat are “urgent issues” and their status is listed as vulnerable.
It adds: “The loss of sea ice habitat from climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of polar bears. Other key threats include polar bear-human conflicts, unsustainable hunting and industrial impacts.
“As climate change forces polar bears to spend longer time onshore, they come in contact more often with Arctic coastal communities and others working in the Arctic. Unfortunately, these interactions sometimes end badly for both humans and bears.”