A polar bear, looking exhausted and hungry, has been spotted hundreds of miles away from its home in Russia – and that’s a very, very bad thing.
A young male polar bear, nicknamed Umka by locals, was spotted wandering around the village of Tilichiki on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far-eastern Russia, Russian media outlet Kam 24 reports. Polar bears are virtually never spotted here on the peninsula. Their nearest settled population is at least 700 kilometers (434 miles) northwards in the Chukotka autonomous region, so the sighting along the southernly peninsula is causing alarm bells to ring among environmentalists.
“Due to climate change, the Arctic is getting warmer, [so the] hunting environment gets smaller and less convenient,” Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia told The Associated Press. “The ice is receding, and polar bears look for new ways to survive. And the easiest way is coming to people.”
Videos posted on social media show the polar bear rummaging around the outskirts of the town, seemingly on the lookout for food.
Authorities are hoping to deal with the village’s new guest by tranquilizing and capturing him, then returning him to his native land in Chukotka via helicopter. However, they are still waiting for the delivery of the polar bear’s purpose-built cage.
“The bear looks drained and weak. For some reason he does not catch fish and seals, which we have plenty of,” Svetlana Gubareva, deputy head of the Olyutorsky district of Kamchatka, told Kam 24.
“At first, the animal behaved quite actively. Locals filmed it on video, photographed it, and fed it fish. He did not eat very much,” she added.
It’s believed Umka reached the village after becoming lost on a drifting ice floe along the east coast of Russia. As mentioned, the freak occurrence also points to a bigger problem: climate change.
We’ve all seen the photographs of starving polar bears trapped on shrinking icebergs, but climate change can have a profound effect on the lives of polar bears in a whole bunch of ways. With warming temperatures and melting sea ice, the polar bear's natural habitat is becoming deeply disturbed, often forcing the animals to venture much further for food.
A dramatically clear example of this was recently seen in Novaya Zemlya, a Russian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. A state of emergency was declared after more than 50 polar bears invaded the town of Belushya Guba. Once again, the polar bears landed themselves there because receding sea ice forces them to come further inland and disrupts their natural hunting patterns. Faced with a lack of food, they are also more likely to venture into human settlements, where an easy meal can be pinched from rubbish dumps and garbage cans.