Eat each other to survive: the cases of cannibalism identified among polar bears in the Russian Arctic are on the rise, according to researchers partially explaining the phenomenon by the lack of food in a region disrupted by human activity. “There have been cases of cannibalism among polar bears for a long time. But while they were previously rarely seen, they are now quite often, which worries us, "said Ilia Mordvintsev of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow on Wednesday. Quoted by the Interfax news agency, the researcher, who did not give figures, estimated that the lack of food could push the males to eat the cubs.
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The habitat of bears and their hunting area are threatened both by the effects of climate change and increased human activity in the Arctic, which has become a strategic economic and military priority for Russia. The expert thus evoked the impact of gas extraction in the Yamal peninsula, an international project which has reaped billions of euros in profits. The increase in maritime traffic between the Barents Sea and the Gulf of Ob River, linked to the development of the project, has reduced the area for hunting animals, he said. "Now the ice in the Gulf of Ob, which had always been a hunting ground for polar bears, is broken all year," he noted.
Hunting closer to populated areas
The researcher notes, however, that the increase in observed cases of cannibalism in polar bears can also be explained, in part, by the increased presence of humans observing the phenomenon. "We now have reports not only of researchers, but also of the growing number of employees of gas and oil companies and the Ministry of Defense" deployed in the Arctic, said Ilia Mordvintsev.
According to another Russian expert, Vladimir Sokolov, the size of Arctic ice at the end of summer has decreased by 40% in the last 25 years. He raised the possibility that in the future polar bears will no longer hunt on ice floes, but only on coasts or high latitude archipelagos. Incursions by polar bears in search of food near populated areas are more and more frequent in the North of Russia.
In June, a hungry polar bear was seen on the outskirts of a Russian city, more than 800 kilometers from its natural habitat, then captured and taken care of by veterinarians. In February 2019, Russian authorities declared a state of emergency in Novaya Zemlya due to the influx of dozens of aggressive polar bears in search of food.
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