Remote Russian town declares state of emergency after invasion of dozens of polar bears

By Amanda Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
February 16, 2019, 6:11:12 AM EST

Over 50 polar bears strolled into the small military town Belushya Guba located in a northern Russia archipelago, Novaya Zemlya, last weekend, according to USA TODAY.

Belushya Guba is the biggest settlement on the archipelago, which is located in the Arctic Ocean about 1,200 miles to the northeast of Moscow.

Currently in a state of emergency, the town of Belushya Guba has had polar bears come south before to roam the streets, although never has a pack of polar bears this large arrived together.

"I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there has never been so many polar bears in the vicinity," Zhigansha Musin, the head of Novana Zemlya, said.

Peering into house windows, inviting themselves into office buildings and rummaging through the town's trash are some ways the polar bears have been spending a majority of their stay in Belushya Guba.

In response to their guests, the town has put up extra fencing around schools and made arrangements for the town's residents to be driven to and from work, school and child care. There have been incidents of polar bear aggression and attacks, according to TASS New Agency.

The Russian National Nature Resources Agency has sent a group of professionals to Novaya Zemlya to help disperse the animals, according to the Associated Press. They are equipped with the tools and training necessary to properly sedate and relocate the polar bears but are hoping to implement other options prior to this solution.

Understanding what brings the polar bears to a small town in the Russian archipelago to begin with is part of finding that solution.

The polar bears that traveled to Belushya Guba are from the Barents Sea sub-population. The Barents Sea has experienced some of the greatest impacts of climate change, largely affecting a vast number of bears.

polar bears invade Russian village (AP)

In this image taken from video, a mother polar polar bear and two cubs walk across the courtyard of a residential block, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Belushya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, Russia. Russian wildlife specialists are heading to the Arctic archipelago to try to resolve why the polar bears have moved into the area. More than 50 bears have been spotted in the archipelago’s main town of Belushya Guba. (@muah_irinaelis via AP)

Elisabeth Kruger, senior program officer for Arctic Wildlife for The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said “Polar bears use sea ice as a platform for moving, finding their prey and hunting, and so when that platform is removed, they usually go to shore."

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Such a drastic loss of sea ice has come to be expected in summer months but never in the dead of winter. This has left the polar bears on the prowl for something to satisfy them, as seals are no longer an option.

Polar bears were able to smell the trash dump outside the village of Belushya Guba in their migration for food.

“Polar bears are naturally very curious and opportunistic feeders. They will go investigate anything that looks and smells like it might be tasty,” Kruger said.

Belushya Guba had a trash dump sitting on the outskirt of their village which attracted the polar bears. However, like many Arctic villages without access to main roads, they struggle with an answer to their growing trash problem.

Kruger explained that “having an attractant, such as an open landfill, the polar bear problem likely isn’t going to go away, and with the progression of climate change, it’s only going to get worse.”

Organizations such as WWF are looking for solutions for Arctic villages that better protect both the people and the polar bears.

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