‘Unimaginable cruelty’: Polar bear maimed by firecracker, unlikely in self-defense

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A shocking incident where a polar bear was maimed by a firecracker in Russia’s northern Wrangel Island was a deliberate act of cruelty rather than an accident or self-defense, experts believe. They insisted that the perpetrators should face up to seven years in prison for poaching.

The employee of Rusalyans, where the incident happened, has been fined 3,000 rubles ($42) for failing to comply with the rules of specially protected nature conservation areas, FlashNord reported on Friday, citing a source in the local nature reserve.

According to a worker at the "Wrangel Island" reserve, who spoke to TASS, the man who allegedly threw a firecracker at the bear shouldn’t have been outside at the time of the incident. So the administrative violation was reported and the employee fined.

"[A firecracker] was thrown by a civilian, who had never seen a polar bear. Judging by his account, he got scared and threw a firecracker [at the bear], but it so happened that [the bear] took it in its mouth," Aleksandr Skripnik said.

Public prosecution office of the Chukotka autonomous region, where the incident happened, is carrying out its own check, FlashNord reported earlier on Thursday. "We are checking compliance with nature protection laws. Police have launched a check of their own, but under criminal procedure legislation," the source told the agency.

The director of the nature reserve on Wrangel Island, Alexander Gruzdev, however remains hopeful that the bear survived the attack despite it suffering severe concussion and damage to the soft tissues in its mouth.

“The bear survived ... there was not so much blood. Her tongue will heal. The eyes are not damaged. It is not blind, otherwise she wouldn’t have fled,” the reserve’s director told Gazeta.ru. He added that the animal regained consciousness after the incident, attempted to attack people and had to be scared off to the tundra where her trail was lost – with no body ever having been found.

The appalling video of the incident that happened in November, which showed the animal’s agony, recently emerged online, sparking outrage and condemnation, as well as calls for a merciless punishment for the perpetrators.

WARNING! VIDEO CONTAINS ANIMAL CRUELTY! VIEWERS DISCRETION IS ADVISED! 

“Feeding the bear an explosive charge is an act of unimaginable cruelty,” Russian natural resource minister Sergey Donskoy said. “Polar bears are considered an endangered species in our country, so this killing could be considered an act of poaching.”

Authorities are investigation the possibility that the bear was indeed tricked into eating an explosive charge that detonated inside the animal’s mouth. Official request to investigate the incident has been filed with the office of the Prosecutor General.

“All the experts we are working with said that it was not self-defense, it was a deliberate act. The bear is a clever animal and it would never grab a flare. The explosive device was smeared with something that attracted a bear,” Donskoy said.

“This animal is unlikely to survive, judging by the behavior, the bear has a damaged central nervous system,” the minister believes.

If proven guilty of poaching, the perpetrators may face up to seven years for killing an endangered species, especially since the incident took place at a protected nature sanctuary administered by Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

According to Russia’s LifeNews TV channel investigation, the bear ate the flare that was given to the animal by a cook working at a construction site, regularly visited by the bear and her cub. The reserve’s director however says thus far allegations that the cook intentionally fed the explosives to an animal is nothing more than “speculation.”

Gruzdev explained that given the fact that the animal got used to regular food handouts at the construction site it might have accidentally grabbed the flare. The tragedy happened because people at the site were not properly instructed to never feed and try to domesticate wild animals, Gruzdev believes.

“If the polar bear comes to the site and is even lured sometimes, this is an extreme violation of safety regulations, the company must answer for it,” minister Donskoy agrees.

Rusalyans company, on the premises of which the incident allegedly happened, meanwhile said that the way the video was filmed and presented is a “provocation or black PR,” LifeNews reported. And while the company is looking into the incident, Donskoy believes Rusalyans should be held responsible for violating safety standards for not placing a protective fence around the construction site that allowed the bear to approach.

The investigation must now decide on the outcome of the case. Meanwhile, Greenpeace Russia has urged authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice by offering an “objective legal assessment of what happened.”

American animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said that authorities should investigate “this incredibly disturbing case,” adding that those who committed the crime should get psychiatric help.

“The facts surrounding this video do remain to some degree unknown. But if it turns out that somebody purposely fed this polar bear a firecracker, then this individual should be brought before the court of law,” Elisa Jasmin, representative of PETA told RT.

“And also this individual should receive psychiatric counseling,” Jasmin added, insiting that such cruelty to animals often escalates to “human victims” therefore should be taken “seriously.”