Polar bears forced into conflict with indigenous Arctic community

conflict with indigenous Arctic community

VladilenIvanovichKavry has lived for nearly 50 years in a village called Vankarem, in the Chukotka region, located at the far eastern edge of Russia, on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. For generations his people have survived the harsh Arctic seasons by maintaining a delicate relationship with the surrounding natural environment. But as the ice disappears from the Chukchi Sea, Vladilen has seen a distinct change in the behavior in the local walrus and polar bears – sometimes leading to conflict with the villagers.

Vladilen describes the changing patterns in the sea ice. ‘In my lifetime I have noticed significant changes in the cycle of freezing and thawing. The ice-forming period now lasts for about a month, which is longer that before. The ice now breaks up a month earlier than before.’ He says, ‘Many of the people in my village have experienced the ice fields melting that used to last all summer, and there is no more old ice left here.’

The Chukchi Sea has experienced some of the greatest sea ice loss in the Arctic as a result of climate change. Sea ice in the region is melting faster than many scientists forecast and the first ice-free summer could occur within decades. The sea ice is a key feature of the local ecosystem, providing animals with shelter and platforms from which to hunt prey. Habitat disruption is having significant effects on Arctic animals like walrus and polar bear.

‘Walrus “haul out” of the water to rest and bear their young during the summer.’ Explains Vladilen.‘They are adapted to living on sea ice for most of the year. When there is no ice they haul out on the coastal sites. The changes to the seasons mean that the walrus stay longer at their coastal haulouts. During the last few winters we have noticed that the coastal haul out is more crowded.’

When onshore in coastal areas,the adults can become panicked and young walruses are susceptible to increased mortality from trampling. It is something that Vladilen has observed. ‘When people get close to the walruses they panic – many can die in the squeeze.’ He explains that a deadly stampede can bring trouble for his community too.‘The smell of dead walrus attracts bears to the area, very close to our village, creating danger for people.’

‘More polar bears come closer to the walrus settlement and our village. We are pretty sure the more bears are here because of climate change,’ says Vladilen.‘The bears depend on sea ice to get to their prey and without sea ice their hunting ground is shrinking.’

The movements of polar bears in the region have changed with the disappearing sea ice. While the bear population of the Chukchi Sea has not experienced the same levels of decline as those in the Southern Beaufort Sea or Hudson Bay, the bears here are increasingly involved in hostile confrontation with the locals.

‘The polar bears cause problems because they come looking for food in the village and often attack the sled dogs. It was not unusual for ten to visit the village in one day when foraging. We need to scare them away.’

WWF have helped Vladilen to establish a bear watch for his village. This helps to cure one of the symptoms of climate change in the region. But the delicate life that indigenous Arctic communities have maintained for generations is under threat as the sea ice melts, and local species are pushed to the brink.

Source: WWF Full account and scientific review here

Comment here

Your email won't be public


You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>