27 Feb 2020 18:22

Intraspecific predation on the rise in polar bear population

ST. PETERSBURG. Feb 27 (Interfax) - Intraspecific predation has been on the rise in the polar bear population of the Russian Arctic in recent years, senior research fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution Ilya Mordvintsev told the press on Wednesday.

"The existence of cannibalism in the polar bear population is a long established fact. What worries us is that such cases were rare before and became rather frequent lately. [...] We can say that the polar bear cannibalism rate has been growing," Mordvintsev said.

There could be two reasons, he said. "There is not enough food in certain seasons, and large males attack females and cubs or, perhaps, there were not enough people in the Arctic in the previous period to observe so many cases of cannibalism. We are receiving reports not only from scientists but also from the growing staff of oil and gas companies and the Defense Ministry," he said.

Human activity in the Arctic is seriously affecting the life of polar bears, Mordvintsev said.

"The active development of Yamal resources and the construction of the LNG plant resulted in the year-round operation of the passage between the Ob Inlet and the Barents Sea, which did not happen in winter before. The Ob Inlet has always been a hunting ground of polar bears. Now the ice is broken there all year round," he said, indicating an increasing number of polar bear sightings on the coast and in settlements.

Mordvintsev also said that environmentalists are set to make the first-ever estimate of the polar bear population of the Russian Arctic.

"The Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology is preparing a four-year program to keep tabs on polar bears in the Russian Arctic. It will embrace every population. A census of the Chukotka-Alaska bear population will be carried out in 2021, the Laptev population will be counted in 2022, and the Kara-Barents population will be estimated in 2023. Data will be processed in 2024. Then we will finally know the number of bears populating every part of the Russian Arctic," Rossiyskaya Gazeta quoted Mordvintsev as saying.

"Simultaneous estimation of all populations would have been ideal but this is technically and financially impossible," he said.

This is the first attempt in the history of modern Russia to prepare a total estimate of the size of the polar bear population of the Arctic, Mordvintsev said.

At present, environmentalists do not have even approximate estimates of the number of polar bears.

"The Soviet Union was monitoring the polar bear population simultaneously with reconnoitering ice conditions. Unfortunately, ice reconnaissance is practically non-existent nowadays, and satellites are doing the job. It is impossible to make an even approximate estimate of the current polar bear population, considering that the bears mostly live on drifting ice blocks," head of the Arctic expedition of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute Vladimir Sokolov said.

The press service of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology said on February 9 that Russia was planning the first-ever census of the polar bear population. The number of polar bears populating the Chukchi and East Siberian seas will be counted from the air in 2021, and the work will be done in the Laptev and Kara seas in 2022 and in the eastern parts of the Barents Sea and Franz Josef Land in 2023.

"For the first time in history, the most complete information about the polar bear population in our country will be obtained as a result," the press service said.

All three polar bear populations of Russia are listed as Red Book species, it said. Each population belongs to a different rareness category: the Kara-Barents population belongs to the 4th category, the Laptev population to the 3rd, and the Chukchi-Alaska population to 5th.