Sergei Donskoi addresses International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears

Sergei Donskoi addresses International Forum on Conservation of Polar Bears

4 December 2013

The Russian Federation has ensured the protection of polar bear habitats on a territory of over 30 million hectares, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sergei Donskoi said speaking at the International Forum on the Conservation of Polar Bears held in Moscow on 4-6 December.


Mr Donskoi said the preservation of animals on specially protected nature reserves was a traditional and effective national measure to protect the habitats of the rare animal species listed in the Red Data Book.


To date, four reserves, including Wrangel Island, the Great Arctic State Reserve, the Ust-Lensky and Gydansky Reserves, have been established in key polar bear habitats. Two national parks, the Russian Arctic and Beringia, have been established. Two federal game reserves, Franz Josef Land and Severozemelsky, and three regional game reserves, Vaigach, Chaunskaya Bay and Yamalsky, have also been established. Moreover, two regional nature landmarks, Cape Vankarem and Cape Kozhevnikov, as well as six resource reserves in the Sakha Yakutia Republic, have been designated.


The reduction in the polar bear population has been attributed to several factors, primarily poaching. “Polar bear poaching was legally banned in Russia in 1956. Until the 1990s, only a few cases of polar bear poaching were recorded in the Russian Arctic. It was also difficult to export and sell polar bear skins. Today, high black market prices for polar bear skins and other products serve to encourage poaching. The number of poached polar bears could seriously damage the populations,” he noted.


Global warming is another factor. Scientists estimate that the area of Arctic ice formations has decreased by 25% in the past few years, and that it may decline even more in the coming decades. Over the past 20-25 years, the most intensive Russian Arctic climate warming has been recorded in the Barents and Chukotka Seas.


The pollution of the Arctic environment is the third factor. “In the past few decades, the Arctic has been developed and actively exploited by industrial companies and sometimes subjected to uncontrolled pollution. Research conducted on Svalbard (Spitsbergen), Franz Josef Land and in the Kara, Eastern Siberian and Chukotka Seas shows that polar bear tissues have accumulated the greatest volume of pesticides, which are persistent organic pollutants, near Svalbard and the northern sectors of the Barents and Kara Seas. A range of negative factors could reduce the polar bear population by 66% through 2050,” the Minister said.


In 2012-2013, the Government introduced tougher penal sanctions for poaching, illegally detaining, purchasing, transporting and selling rare animals. A new clause of the Criminal Code stipulates criminal liability for the above illegal actions with regard to rare and particularly valuable animals, including polar bears. Those found guilty of such crimes may be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. Moreover, a Government executive order has approved a list of particularly valuable wild animals, whose poaching and sales stipulate penal sanctions. The monetary value of Animals listed in Russia’s Red Data Book has been adjusted significantly upward. These values are used to calculate the cost of the losses incurred on them. For example, a polar bear is now valued at 300,000 roubles.


Various measures are being implemented in order to prevent and minimise conflicts between animals and humans. Depending on the specific causes and circumstances of these encounters, including the appearance of bears in communities, at waste dumps and other locations that have been developed and settled by people, deliberate efforts to approach polar bears or chance encounters outside communities, specific action is being taken to prevent such encounters. Moreover, the authorities are monitoring the use of firearms, aircraft, helicopters and vehicles in the continental tundra and on Arctic islands. They also investigate every incident of polar bear shootings to determine whether these actions were justified or not. The authorities are also issuing pamphlets and other recommendations to teach people how to behave during encounters with polar bears. Bear patrols, which are public inspections involving the local population, play an important role in resolving these encounters.

“We still have a lot to accomplish, and our future activity will aim to preserve the entire polar bear population and its habitats, including forage reserves,” Mr Donskoi stressed.


(Photo © by Viktor Nikiforov)