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Russian islands under polar bear 'invasion'

February 9, 2019

The Novaya Zemlya archipelago is experiencing an unprecedented influx of the dangerous bears. Residents have appealed to federal authorities for help.

Polar bears
Image: Imago/D. Delimont

The Novaya Zemlya archipelago in Russia's far north declared an emergency situation on Saturday, following weeks of "invasion" from belligerent polar bears. As Arctic ice melts, the bears have been spending more time in human settlements looking for food.

Novaya Zemlya, which has a population of about 3,000, has called on Russian federal authorities to assist it in combating the "a mass invasion of polar bears into inhabited areas." Moscow has said it is sending a team of investigators to asses the situation.

'Mass invasion'

The leader of the local administration, Zhigansha Musin, said the islands had never seen so many polar bears in inhabited areas.

"I've been on Novaya Zemlya since 1983 and there's never been such a mass invasion of polar bears," he told other regional officials, according to a press release.

Read more: Alaska's sea ice loss means boom in polar bear tourism

Since December, at least 52 polar bears have been seen in the archipelago's primary settlement, Belushya Guba.

Musin's deputy, Alexander Minayev, said the bears were exhibiting "aggressive behavior," including "attacks on people and entering residential homes and public buildings," the AFP news agency reported.

"There are constantly six to 10 bears inside the settlement," he said. "People are scared, they are afraid to leave their homes ... parents are frightened to let their children go to schools and kindergartens."

Novaya Zemlya is also home to a military garrison, where the bears have "literally chased people."

In the past, local officials have used vehicle and dog patrols to scare off the bears, but that no longer appears to be working. Hundreds of disused military buildings have been demolished in the area because the bears were beginning to settle inside them.

Russian authorities have said that the shooting of polar bears, which is strictly prohibited, could potentially be allowed in extreme circumstances.

Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.