Polar bear cubs born on Franz Josef Land after winter

Polar bear cubs born on Franz Josef Land after winter

12 April 2016

A female polar bear and her cub have left their den after winter on Alexandra Land of the Franz Josef Land Archipelago. The staff of Russian Arctic National Park has been watching the bears for several days.


“The female bear and her cub were first spotted by an inspector on the hillside of Cape Dvoinoi at 5.45 pm on 6 April during his shift at the environmental watch post. Since then, the female bear has been monitored round the clock. Cape Dvoinoi is on the other side of the bay, virtually opposite the inspector’s post,” said Denis Mennikov, head of the expedition group working permanently at Omega National Park.


He said the female bear leaves the lair three or four times a day, slowly walks around nearby, occasionally rolling down the hillside, and lies in the snow. At night, the animal is less active and has only been seen once. She is sometimes accompanied by a bear cub. It is hard to say exactly how many cubs have been born because the bears are monitored from a far distance – about 4 km – through binoculars to avoid disturbing the family.


“We expected cubs in early April. Our observations in the previous years show that the first litters appear on Franz Josef Land exactly at this time,” said Maria Gavrilo, the park’s deputy director for research who holds a PhD in Biology. “I must say that Severnaya Bay has been the traditional breeding area for polar bears since the 1930s.”


Despite intensive construction works on Alexandra Land following orders from the Russian Defence Ministry, polar bears continue choosing Severnaya Bay and its surroundings for breeding. “This puts special responsibility on all of us for the fate of new bear generations. Rising temperatures in the Arctic and the melting ice leave less and less room for bears to dig their dens and bring up their cubs,” Gavrilo said.


These are the first observations of a polar bear in 2016 who left her lair. On the whole, Alexandra Land inspectors said, longer days after the polar night result in more frequent polar bear encounters. At the moment, 16 staffers of Russian Arctic National Park are working on Alexandra Land.


Yulia Petrova