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Could Climate Change Increase Polar Bear Attacks?

November 6, 2013; 6:56 AM ET

A polar bear attack in Canada that left two people injured has brought new warnings from scientists of a dangerous rise in human-bear encounters in a warming Arctic.

Some friends had just walked out the door in the pre-dawn hours after a party in Churchill, Manitoba, on Friday when the young polar bear crept up behind them.

By the time the bear was driven off by neighbors wielding a shovel, banging pots and pans, and firing multiple rounds from a shotgun, two people were badly mauled: the young woman who was the original target of the attack and an older male neighbor who tried to rescue her.

Photo by Flickr user Martin Lopatka

The episode is the second violent human-bear encounter since September in the small town of 900 on Hudson Bay, known as the polar bear capital of the world.

It has also prompted new warnings from scientists of the rising risks of such encounters because of climate change, with starving bears coming off the ice and onto land looking for food.

The loss of sea ice is bringing hungry bears into closer contact with humans as they hunt for food, with potentially lethal consequences for both, according to Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International.

"We predict these kinds of events are going to be more frequent and more severe because of climate change," he said (Suzanne Goldenberg, London Guardian, Nov. 4).

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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