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Human and Polar Bear conflict is on the rise

Declining sea ice in the Arctic circle is thought to be pushing polar bears into new territory in search of food and this is bringing them into contact with humans, which in turn, is causing conflict.

The Arctic Ice provides camouflage for polar bears when they hunt as their white fur blends into their surroundings. As the sea ice melts, polar bears are finding it more difficult to hunt and are therefore, displaying signs of stress including decrease in body condition and production of cubs as they work harder for food. As a result, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has predicted that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% by 2050.

As the ice melts and polar bears find it harder to hunt, they are pushed into new territory to find food and often they walk in human populated areas. As a result, over the past couple of months, there sadly has been multiple reports of human and polar bear conflict which has resulted in either injury or death and over the last decade, the number of polar bear incidents has tripled. For example, in 2007 there were nine recorded incidents of human and polar bear conflict, compared to 21 conflicts between August and December 2017 in the village of Ittoqqortoormitt, Greenland, alone.

 

Polar bear shooting in Svalbard
Last month it was reported that a Polar Bear was shot and killed in the Svalbard archipelago by a cruise line employee after the bear attacked a spotter. The cruise liner was getting ready for a shore excursion to observe polar bears when one appeared, and its protective instincts kicked in.

The melting sea ice not only means that bears are on the move, but also humans are taking advantage of the changing landscape and are putting more vessels in the area for tourism. The accident in the Norwegian archipelago is currently under investigation after it sparked international backlash, yet sadly there have been other incidents.

 

NSF Greenland Summit Station
Workers at the National Science Foundation’s Summit station in Greenland shot and killed a bear in June this year after it wandered over to their tents.

A scientist woke up and saw the bear and managed to warn everyone before there were any accidents. They then proceeded to hire a local hunter who shot 5 warning shots in an attempt to scare the bear. When this did not work the hunter shot and killed the bear.

Arctic Governments
After the huge increase in polar bear and human conflict, it is clear that the Arctic governments have a duty to their citizens and to the polar bears to intervene and find a way for both species to live safely.

More bears are wandering into human populated areas than ever before and therefore safety measures have been introduced to protect both humans and the bears. The World Wildlife Fund has been working with local communities in Russia, Greenland, Canada and Alaska to establish polar bear patrols. The patrols use bright lights, loud noises and occasionally rubber bullets to safely scare the bears away from populated areas.

However, it is not just about protecting human life as it is just as important to protect Arctic wildlife and the polar bears. Polar bears currently sit at the top of the Arctic food chain and ecosystems only function naturally if the top predator is present in the food chain so without polar bears hunting seals, there could be a chain reaction throughout the Arctic food web.

Overall, global warming is not only causing issues for polar bears and other Arctic species, but also for humans due to human and polar bear conflict.