27 February – International Polar Bear Day

27 February – International Polar Bear Day

27 February 2018

Polar bear hunting is prohibited in Russia, but the species is still becoming increasingly vulnerable.  The friendly attitude of urban residents to this predator often prompts polar bears to come to villages where they end up being killed, RIA Novosti was told by Anatoly Kochnev, a senior researcher at the mammal ecology laboratory at the Institute of the Biological Problems of the North of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the leading researcher at Beringia National Park.


Polar Bears International established International Polar Bear Day on 27 February to attract attention to polar bear conservation. On that day, all environmentalist and animal protection organisations remind the public of the problem of melting ice, the main threat to the Red Data Book predator.


“There are fewer polar bears on the Chukotka Coast, but I still see them there every year. Bears are interested in you, approaching you, trying to play and even to taste you. When they are alone, they run away in fear of humans,” Kochnev said.


He notes that playing with bears and treating them like pets is a bad idea.  In the last few decades, people have begun to see wildlife as cute and adorable. This is a disservice to the bears.


“A hunter lived in a village on Cape Schmidt. He decided to lure a bear with her cub by putting out food. Later on the bear was killed. Maybe this man knew these polar bears and was not scared by them, but he set an example for others to follow. They fed her condensed milk, but she hissed at them. They got scared and killed her. It would have been better if the hunter had left the bear alone – she would still be alive,” Kochnev said.


He also said that videos and photos showing builders and oil workers trying to lure polar bears are shared online. Those taking the photos do so to show off, whereas polar bears start seeing humans as food and go to villages to get it.


“If a polar bear walks into a village, it is killed, and this becomes a secret. Indigenous people are bear eaters. In Russia, bear hunting has been banned for 60 years, but it never stopped. Beringia National Park is educating locals in this respect. Polar bears are vulnerable, and we must change our attitude to them. It is necessary to do everything possible to let a polar bear leave alive,” Kochnev said.


 Apart from loss of ice – the main habitat and hunting areas of polar bears – the way of life in ethnic villages also leads to human-bear conflicts. Locals are used to dumping meat waste on the coast and stocking meat in sheds. The smell attracts polar bears, and in winter they go to villages.


“Villagers should reconsider their lifestyle and not to leave food waste in the open by the coast. In the 1980s, the polar bear population peaked, but there was a lot of ice at that time, so the animals almost never approached the coast and did not know humans. Now there is no ice and the bear goes to the coat in search of food, but by tradition all ethnic villages are located near walrus rookeries, and this is exactly where bears come, Kochnev said.


Plan to preserve polar bears


A Chukotka government representative told RIA Nоvosti that the region has a priority plan on polar bear conservation to 2020. A commission has been set up, and different agencies are working together.  Up to 260 raids have been held jointly with law enforcement agencies.


In addition, the authorities are teaching local people to prevent conflicts with polar bears. They are establishing protected areas and imposing restrictions on economic activities in the polar bear’s habitat.


Local residents are advised to promptly remove waste. Deserted buildings in villages are either conserved or demolished. Lighting is being installed at  the coast. Seasoned hunters form patrols to scare bears away.


“It is very good that so many anti-poaching raids are conducted in the Chukotka Autonomous Area,” said Viktor Nikiforov, an expert on polar bears and poaching. “The last and this century’s only case was brought to court over 10 years ago when two residents of the village of Cape Shmidt received two suspended sentences.”

Poaching has not stopped. Last spring six polar bear skins were discovered in the Providensky District of Chukotka. This is a very alarming signal,” the expert said.