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Премия рунета 2017

Local dwellers in Chukotka are saving walruses with the help from WWF

30 march 2018
As a part of WWF-Russia’s Project on sea mammals’ mortality reduction, activists from the nearest village cleaned a walrus haul-out on the Chukchee Sea shore off corpses, and created two artificial feeding grounds for large predators.

Researchers spotted record high mortality level of Pacific walruses on all haul-outs on the Chukchee Sea shore last year. There is a hypothesis that this level is partially a result of global climate change.

“For example, the thinning of ice shield shortens the feeding period of polar bears. Thus, predators do not acquire subcutaneous fat enough for long summer migrations. On the other hand, walruses suffer as well because ice plates are vital for them as places for rest during winter-spring migrations. If we learn how the climate change in the Arctic impacts wild animals, we will understand what kind of measures we need to undertake in order to adapt them,” says Oksana Lipka, WWF-Russia Climate and Energy Program project coordinator.

Another cause of death is tightly connected with the number of disturbing factors. There can be as much as one hundred thousand walrus species on all haul-outs near Keniskin Bay (the Chukchee Sea shore) simultaneously. The animals lying closely to each other get frightened easily by the appearance of predators (brown and polar bears, stray dogs), low flying birds, and even wind blasts. The anxiety of only one animal is enough to raise the whole haul-out in panic. Dashing towards the water line, animals jump from steeps, crashing their bones and smashing each other. After each such panic flight some of them remain on the shore stomped to death, others die later due to injuries received in the stampede.

The main victims of the stampede are immature species. However, big adult males are sometimes to die as well. And pregnant female species can lose their cubs which increases the mortality rate.

“In order to reduce factors of disturbance, as an experiment, hunters and dweller of the Enurmino village in the North of Chukotka decided to follow WWF-Russia’s recommendations. It is well known that bears and other predators come to haul-outs looking for food. Mainly, they are interested in corpses. Taking that into account, people from Enurmino cleaned the haul-out on Cape Serdtse-Kamen off corpses, and arranged two artificial feeding grounds for predators far away from both village and the haul-out,” said Alexander Moiseyev, WWF-Russia ‘s Project coordinator.

The results of the monitoring conducted in 2017, showed that walruses at Cape Serdtse-Kamen died several times less often than those on the haul-outs of Cape Schmidt and Cape Vankarem. The data matches to a lower number of panic flights registered at Cape Serdtse-Kamen.

WWF-Russia’s experts tend to connect these facts to the measures undertaken by dwellers from Enurmino. These measures can also be the cause of a low number of registered conflicts between humans and bears at the same period comparing to the previous years. Besides fulfilling its conservation goals, the WWF-Russia’s Project increased the occupation level, created new jobs for locals.

“There are very few sources of income in the remote villages of Chukotka. Majorly, people are fishing and hunting there. From our point of view, it was essential that locals got involved in the work. People who lived there for their whole lives are the most concerned about walruses’ well-being. As well as, they are interested in fewer conflicts with big predators,” said Andrey Vinnikov, the head of Sustainable Marine Fishing Program of WWF-Russia.

From March to July 2018, the hunters from Enurmino will monitor polar bear aggregations near the artificial feeding grounds, and register conflicts between bears and humans.

The photo in the head: © Maxim Kozlov / WWF-Russia
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