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11 Nov, 2013 13:10

Bear scare: Crowds of polar predators ‘besiege’ Russian Far East town

Bear scare: Crowds of polar predators ‘besiege’ Russian Far East town

Residents of several settlements in the Russian Far East are in for unwelcome visitors: hungry polar bears. Over 40 have gathered just a stone's throw away from the village of Ryrkaypy in Chukotka.

Local residents are not advised to go out in the dark to avoid coming face to face with predators looking for food ahead of winter sleep.

Three people have been killed by bears in Kamchatka this year, while Chukotka residents currently live in fear of a polar bear attack.

Except in dire emergencies, shooting polar bears - protected under the Red List and known for their enormous physical power - is prohibited.

Forty-three predators have gathered together near the village of Ryrkaypy, according to WWF Russia. Polar bears were spotted near the remains of two dead whales, washed onto the beaches several kilometers away from the Chukotka settlement.

"The last time a large number of polar bears gathered in one place was discovered on the Arctic coast of Chukotka in the fall of 2006," head of the Polar Bear Patrol WWF project Viktor Nikiforov said. 

"The south wind has torn the ice off the coast, opening it to the sea. Some of the bears left over the ice, but many of them are still there, near the whales. Our patrol is on guard near the school area in the mornings, twice a day making a tour around the surrounding villages, controlling the situation," he added.

Reuters / Geoff York

The bears have already appeared on the outskirts of the community, several hundred kilometers east of Billings. Members of the WWF Polar Bear Patrol team fear they could now head to the village dump, posing a serious threat to the locals.

Both Billings and Ryrkaypy villages are located on traditional bear winter migration routes. Therefore the predators' visit to these settlements was next to inevitable.

Flyers with a warning about the danger have been posted around the settlement and a curfew after dark announced.

Residents have been advised not to move around the settlement alone in the dark, and by no means throw away leftover foods near their houses.

In summer a brown bear looking for food in one Kamchatka village climbed right into a dumpster, where he finally quenched his appetite.

In another recent incident a bear chased several people up a tree and ate the berries they had gathered. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

Unlike brown bears that often maul a person and leave, polar bear attacks are more likely to be fatal. Hungry predators are said to be stealthy hunters, fearless of humans.

To protect people from danger, a former aircraft storage hangar outside the northern town of Churchill, in Canada, has been turned into the world’s only prison for polar bears.

The problem is, the number of polar bears passing through the remote area each autumn outnumbers the town's entire population of 800 humans. Up to 20 bears a day can reportedly be spotted around the town. The predators can't help passing Churchill just because it sits in the middle of their winter migration route.