A large number of polar bears have descended on a remote Russian village located in the northeastern Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya, searching for sustenance as climate change dwindles their food supply.
Authorities have declared a state of emergency over the influx in bears, which have foraged through homes and reportedly attacked people as they roam through the village, State news agency a "mass invasion."
The onslaught has been particularly bad in the small hamlet of Belushya Guba, which has reported 50 sightings of polar bears since December, according to the report. Between six and ten polar bears are present at the settlement at any given time, says TASS.
Authorities have had a hard time corralling the animals and luring them away from the village: The bears failed to respond to police patrols and signals that could potentially scare them off, , and it's illegal to shoot them, owing to their endangered status. Short of less violent options, the only alternative might be to cull the population, although Russia's main environmental watchdog has so far refused to issue hunting licenses to civilians.
Polar bears face a fight to survive as climate change presents an uncertain future: The animals typically hunt seals as they burrow in sea ice. As green house gas emissions warm the globe and prompt the melting of sea ice, polar bears are forced to continue their pursuit of sustenance on land. Their need of food packed with calories only heightens the alarm, as last year noted the animals burn roughly calories 12,325 a day.
That's exactly why Belushya Guba is seeing an unprecedented deluge of polar bears. According to Ilya Mordvintsev, lead researcher at the Severtsev Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the bears are migrating in search of food, albeit at the height of a frosty winter as opposed to the balmier months of spring.
The scientist told TASS:
"Compared to previous years, they come ashore in the southern part of the archipelago, where the ice is changing. They migrate through Novaya Zemlya heading north, where the ice is solid. It is migration from the south to the north. They are staying in that location [near Belushya Guba] because there is some alternative food. They could have gone past but for the food. But as there are bins with edible waste, they stop to flock."
With the animals encircling the village, authorities have taken a number of safety measures, such as securing a local school with fencing, while military personnel are traveling to their posts at a nearby base in "special vehicles."
Deputy head of the local administration Alexander Minayev addressed the situation in grim terms to TASS:
"People are scared, afraid to leave their homes, their daily routines are being broken, and parents are unwilling to let their children go to school or kindergarten."