Save the king of the Arctic
Russia consistently implements polar bear conservation strategy4 october 2022
4 October is World Animal Protection Day. For many people working in the Russian Arctic, this is not just a date but a professional holiday. Every day they do many things, big and small, to protect the inhabitants of this vulnerable region from all the threats—whether climatic, environmental or those that man brings with him. The tremendous work they do is best illustrated by programmes to conserve the polar bear, a living symbol of the Arctic.
On 1 March this year, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment approved a Polar Bear Conservation Strategy for Russia as part of the National Ecology Project. It is designed for the next 8 years. Over these years, a monitoring system should be established covering all Arctic regions of Russia, economic activities should be restricted in the most important areas for predators, and systematic work should be organised to prevent their conflicts with humans.
The strategy also envisages increasing the size of protected areas in polar bear habitats. The creation of protected areas is one of the most important measures for the conservation of all Arctic habitats, so by 2023, the proportion of protected areas in the northern regions of Russia will have increased from 11% to at least 14–15%.
This year, as part of the strategy, an extensive polar bear range survey and census will be launched.
'One of the assessments of conservation measures is the number of animals. Unfortunately, we cannot give exact figures for all species. That's why the censuses are an important event,' said Alexander Kozlov, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.
The first large-scale White Bear Census project was launched on 2 September on Wrangel Island. Next year, the experts will expand the area of work to the Medvezhyi Islands, and unmanned aerial vehicles will be involved in the observations.
'Scientists are investigating polar bears and their habitats for pollutants. For this purpose, they will take samples of raptor fur, water, snow, ice and soil,' specified Alexander Kozlov.
The World Wildlife Fund will also be involved in implementing a polar bear conservation strategy in Russia. For more than 10 years, the Fund has been running the Bear Patrol programme, helping to prevent conflicts between the red-listed predator and humans. Groups of trained community volunteers drive bears away from northern towns and villages, and the Fund supports them so they can respond more quickly. On 23 September, the Bear Patrol team in Amderma in the Nenets Autonomous Area received a Sokol off-road vehicle from WWF. Thanks to the work of this team, there has not been a single physical encounter with a raptor in Amderma since 2018.
Bear Patrols are active not only in NAA but also in other Arctic hotspots—Yakutia and Chukotka. Due to the changing climate and the active development of northern areas, predators are increasingly coming out to humans, so the problem of conflicts with humans is becoming more and more acute. For example, the Chukotka village of Billings holds the record for most polar bear sightings this autumn—locals have reported sightings almost every day. The Bear Patrol recorded more than 40 encounters, and it was only thanks to the patrolmen that serious conflicts were avoided.
'The solution could be to set up task forces in each region that include specialists from different disciplines. Such teams will be able to quickly go to the site and respond to the situation correctly: instruct the population, drive the bear away, immobilise it and move it away from the settlement or remove it from the wild,' thinks Varvara Semenova, Chief Project Coordinator for the Arctic Biodiversity Fund.
So that Arctic residents know how to behave when faced with a polar bear, WWF conducts special training seminars. The first meeting of the White Bear Safety project participants took place in Moscow on 21–22 June. Leading experts in the country spoke about the psychology and behaviour of predators and how to ward them off. And at the Moscow Zoo's zoo breeding ground, the seminar participants were able to try out various deterrents.
'That said, we should be talking about fencing off last, and prevention first. With comprehensive preventive measures, we can prevent up to 90% of all conflicts between humans and polar bears,' noted WWF Arctic safety expert Vladimir Melnik.Read more Protecting the eider kingdom Kandalaksha Nature Reserve celebrates its 90th anniversary