A polar bear has been spotted wandering around with “T-34” scrawled on its body in black spray paint.
It's unclear why the polar bear has been tagged with bold black paint, although the depressing sight has fuelled plenty of theories and rumors.
A grainy video of the graffitied polar bear was first uploaded to a WhatsApp group used by indigenous people living in the Chukotka autonomous region of northern Russia and later shared on Facebook by Sergey Kavry (Серёга Кавры), who claims to work for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Although polar bears can be found in the Chukotka autonomous region of Russia, it’s not known where the footage was shot.
The people filming the video from a stationary vehicle can be heard swearing in confusion and asking “Why is it so dirty?” before realizing the marking is actually paint, according to a translation from The Siberian Times.
Some people have speculated that the tag was painted by scientists attempting to monitor the individual, while others have wondered whether it could be the work of the military. Or the polar bear may have been the victim of a cruel prank.
The tag “T-34” has raised some eyebrows. T-34 is the iconic Soviet tank famously used in World War II against the Nazis, even described by the Germans as the "best tank" of the war, that has since become a symbol of national pride in Russia. However, the relevance of this reference is uncertain.
Speculation has also suggested the act may have been a reaction to growing concerns that polar bears have been coming closer to human settlements in the Russian Arctic. Earlier this year, the coastal town of Novaya Zemlya declared a state of emergency after it was overrun with at least 52 polar bears.
“This year there was a trouble with bears in Novaya Zemlya, perhaps they took measures into their own hands this winter: trapping and immobilizing them, since there are no scientists doing it,” Anatoly Kochnev, senior researcher at the Laboratory of Mammal Ecology at the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Russian media.
Regardless of the motive, it’s feared that the black spray paint could leave the bear at risk of starvation. Polar bears rely on their white fur to stay camouflaged from their prey, so this individual could experience some difficulty with any stealth approach when hunting.
The most obvious mystery, of course, is how did anybody get close enough to spray paint a wild polar bear and live (assuming they did)? The white giants are notoriously aggressive predators and no stranger to killing humans. Kochnev told the Siberian Times he suspected the animal must have been sedated for anyone to apply the paint, and the clearness of the writing suggests it was sedated for a while.
It’s anticipated that human-bear conflicts will become a more common occurrence as climate change thaws Arctic sea ice, a vital platform used by the bears to hunt for fat-rich seals and other marine creatures.