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Arctic people learn how to prevent conflicts with polar bears

24 june 2022
Mobile brigades will be organized in the Arctic regions of Russia to prevent human-polar bear conflicts. The first meeting of the participants of the polar bear security project was held in Moscow with the support of the WWF-Russia.
The seminar, held in the Moscow Zoo, brought together specialists from Yakutia, Nenets and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs and Chukotka - members of the polar bear patrols, representatives of regional authorities and business, veterinarians, ecologists. The problem of human-polar bear conflicts is becoming more and more urgent for these regions: due to the changing climate and the active development of the northern territories, people and predators encounters are becoming more common.
First `theory` day
Dmitry Ryabov / WWF-Russia
Now, in the hot spots of the Arctic, where polar bears appear regularly, WWF Polar Bear Patrol project is working - volunteers drive away bears and provide security. However, experts say that these efforts are not enough, more and more signals are coming from different places - a polar bear can appear in almost any settlement or industrial facility.
“The solution could be the creation of operational groups in each region, including specialists from different areas. Such brigades will be able to quickly go to the site and competently respond to the situation: instruct the population, drive the bear away, immobilize it and transport it away from the village or remove it from the wild,” says Varvara Semenova, Arctic biodiversity conservation projects coordinator of WWF-Russia. “Our task is to convey as much knowledge as possible to the people on the ground and to share best practices in conflict prevention. To do this, we invited the leading Russian experts working with the polar bear.”
Polar bear psychology and behavior, organization of security in the settlement, rules for driving the predators away, legal aspects of the work and international experience - all this was discussed on the first day of the seminar. The second was devoted to practice and was held at the training ground of the Moscow Zoo breeding nursery. Here the participants were able to test various deterrents. Unfortunately, as experts say, there are no repellents specifically for the polar bear, so you have to improvise by combining the arsenal of rescuers and hunters - flares, rocket launchers, smoke bombs, etc.
“We should talk about driving the bear away in the last place, prevention is above all,” says Vladimir Melnik, an expert on safety in the Arctic at WWF-Russia. – With the help of comprehensive preventive measures, we can prevent up to 90 percent of all conflict situations. Many of them are quite simple: to make a fence around social objects, not to accumulate, but to dispose waste in time, which can attract a predator.”
Another important skill for mobile teams is the ability to immobilize a polar bear. This is an extreme measure, when the predator is especially persistently trying to penetrate the settlement and does not respond to the technique and means of driving away. In this case, the animal is euthanized and transported to the maximum distance, preferably to a place where it can get food.

How to carry out anesthesia as safely as possible and get back the animal from it? How to choose a drug and calculate the dose? What mistakes can be made during this complex procedure? Dmitry Egorov, chief veterinarian of the Moscow Zoo, spoke about this, and the participants were also able to consolidate the knowledge gained in practice.
Practice on repellents` usage
Dmitry Ryabov / WWF-Russia
The ability to immobilize an animal is also necessary when a decision is made to remove a polar bear from nature, send it to one of the zoos, or move it away from the settlement. Withdrawal from nature, as a rule, concerns lonely cubs that were left without a mother and came to people.
“In the last decade, the number of polar bears that have to be removed from the wild has increased significantly. At the same time, all zoos already contain a sufficient number of animals, it is objectively impossible to accommodate all of them, - says Marina Galeshchuk, leading specialist of the Moscow Zoo, coordinator for polar bears at SOZAR. - If such a need arose, then the cubs should be up to 8-10 months old. Older ones should be left in nature. For this, Rosprirodnadzor has approved a special algorithm of actions, and there are already good results.”
It is yet difficult to say exactly where and how many mobile teams will be organized, during the seminar the experts were convinced that each region of the Russian Arctic has its own specifics, and there can be no single work methodology. But the acquired knowledge and experience will certainly be useful, and someone will be able to apply them very soon - in July-August, the season of frequent approach of polar bears to settlements will begin in most Arctic regions.
For additional information please contact
Press officer of the Barents project/Barents sea ecoregional program
Senior Arctic biodiversity coordinator WWF-Russia