Polar Bear in Contemporary World
The bears’ habitat has undergone declines in area for the decrease of sea ice in the Arctic continental shelf zone. As a result, geographical populations tied to optimal habitats became separated: some animals den on the shore and spend the periods without ice there, some bears move to the central Arctic Basin. Animals from different geographical populations may be mixed up there. Their destiny and perspectives of survival are unknown to us.
The decrease of ice habitat in the Russian Arctic is the most tangible. Polar Bears in this region suffer much more than in the Canadian Arctic.
But global warming and ice decrease is not something that kills the Polar bear. These are the factors that just force him out to the dry-land and complicate his life.
People are those who kill Polar bears.
When in the end of the 20th century Polar bear was close to extinction and all Arctic countries united to save him, Russia was the most progressive and introduced full Polar bear hunt ban. During the Soviet period the ban was complied with effectively. Although poaching existed to some extent, these cases were single and didn’t harm the population. The situation changed completely in the 1990s, in that period poaching acquired a wide scope.
From the beginning of the 90s from 70 to 300 bears were shot illegally each year. This numbers are an expert analysis based on data from the national villages. It has to be mentioned that the information from different sources was similar. This mass extermination definitely had hard consequences. There is no exhaustive data on this population but there are obvious signs that it is in a very poor state.
During its evolutional history of 250 thousand years Polar bears have overcome global warming and interglacial periods. Long-term studies of behavioral ecology of Polar bears on Wrangel island and other Arctic regions hlp us understand how these animals react on the changes of life environment.
Polar Bear’s Reaction on Global Changes in Habitat
- - Death rate of Polar bears has increased while their number is decreasing. Some populations may disappear.
(Satellite labeling will help to identify the populations’ limits, regions and factors of major threats)
- - Global redistribution of Polar bears is taking place at the moment - populations in the Central Arctic Basin mix up, animals move far in search for food when their habitat conditions get harder
(Labeling is essential to answer the following questions: what is the scale of the situation? What will be the consequences?)
- - The probability of gene flow between populations is increasing
(Genetic researches are required. Converse effect may happen because of habitats fragmentation and isolation of some subpopulation in certain regions)
- - Seasonal division of some populations takes place
(It is important to find out the result of this phenomenon, what is bears’ survival rate?)
- - Bears shift to terrestrial life
(it is important to understand how animals adapt to changing conditions, what activities they have on the dry-land, what is the scale of their transfers?)
- - Bears shift to other food
(Is food available in certain regions of the island? Labeling will help to know which regions are the most important for survival and therefore require special protection)
- - The hibernation in liars acquires bigger scale
(What is the survival rate at risky hibernation in the ices?)
- - Bears become more sociable during their life on the dry-land
(Labeling may show the most important habitats and places of bears’ concentration)
- - Nutritional stress increases and so do the death and injury rates as well as the probability of cannibalism.
(That is why we need information about the reasons of injuries and death rate during stress increase).
Conservation of Polar Bears. Threats and Risks.
Some facts about the anthropogenic impact on Polar bear population:
- - Pollution of the Arctic (especially in the Barents Sea region)
- - Industrial destruction of the habitat
- - Poaching (it has the biggest impact in Chukotka and Western Taimyr)
- - Excessive hunting by aboriginal inhabitants (North America). This problem might become urgent for Russia if the law on aboriginal hunting in Chukotka is approved. Aboriginal hunting might become a shield for poaching and stimulate interest for commercial hunting.
- - Groundless shooting of «problem bears» - (all the Russian Arctic where bears come to the dry-land. To improve protection it is important to find the biggest concentrations of bears on the dry-land)
Anxiety factor (may lead to death rate increase and habitat loss especially in places with high human activity)
Development of unregulated extreme and ecological tourism in the Arctic
Main processes of negative influence on Polar bears because of habitat change and increase of anthropogenic impact:
- - Appropriate ice habitats become marginal during summer and autumn and may be excluded from bears’ life cycle
- - A bigger amount of bears is exposed to extreme open sea conditions. This evokes exhaustion, injuries and death rate increase.
- - More bears have to come to the dry-land and stay there without hunting. Bears have to starve longer and more often.
- - Hibernation is postponed which interrupts the reproductive cycle
- - The risk of conflict meetings with humans increases
- - Ears become more vulnerable for poachers
What can help us to conserve Polar bears?
- - Creation of new Special Protected Natural Areas (SPNA) in the Arctic, especially in places where bears winter without ice
- - Effective suppression of poaching
- - Avoiding excessive hunting by aboriginal inhabitants
- - Effective prevention and regulation of conflict contacts with humans by non-lethal means
- - Elimination of anxiety factor and behavior stress for the animals that stay on the dry-land
- - - Enhancing international collaboration of monitoring and PROTECTION of Polar bears
Member of IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group