21 March 2011, 16:31

"Bear Patrol" to monitor Arctic Region

"Bear Patrol"  to monitor Arctic Region
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A spring operation to protect the master of the Arctic - the polar bear – and to observe its migration has started in Russia. The organizers are WWF (World Wildlife Fund)-Russia and the Marine Mammal Council (MMC).

A spring operation to protect the master of the Arctic - the polar bear – and to observe its migration has started in Russia. The organizers are WWF (World Wildlife Fund)-Russia and the Marine Mammal Council (MMC).

Special patrol groups, including the inspectors of natural reserves, the polar stations employees, and, of course, the local residents, on a huge territory along the Arctic coast, from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait, have started watching the polar bear population, the head of the pilot projects of the pilot projects of WWF-Russia Viktor Nikiforov says.

"The Arctic coast is huge, and you can’t put an inspector per each kilometer. Therefore, the only chance here is to attract the local residents living in the North to control that territory. There’re many hunters and lovers of nature there too. Besides, there’re many people who are just working there for free, in a bid to support the WWF-Russia project. After seeing a polar bear they immediately send the information to us."

The people call the polar bear a “snowy cloud of prey”. Arctic seals are eaten by polar bears most often. One polar bear can eat 10 to 25 kilogramms  at  time. It can stay without food for a long time too. White bears like to show curiosity, they are non-aggressive and very patient. They can spend many hours near the water, waiting for seals to emerge on its surface. They are not afraid of humans. From time to time they visit the polar stations. If people are unwilling to lure them, they peacefully leave the polar stations. By the way, polar bears never meet penguins because the latter live in the Antarctic Region, while polar bears live the Arctic. 

Polar bears can swim dozens of kilometers in the icy water. They are good divers. When they stay underwater, their eyes remain open, while their nostrils and ears are closed. Polar bears have god ear and good eyesight. Polar bears smell their prey 5 to 7 kilometres away. A thick layer of snow doesn’t serve an obstacle either. They have steel muscles. A thick layer of fat and a thick skin help polar bears to preserve their warmth. There’s hair on their feet too. Strong and healthy polar bears are active all year round. Only a severe snowstorm can make them arrange a den and sit out there. Only aged male polar bears and female polar bears, which are pregnant, hibernate.

Female polar bears with their cubs which were born in winter leave their dens at the end of March or at the beginning of April and begin walking across the boundless icy fields. It is important to take notice of bears’ traces, especially the traces of female polar bears with their cubs exactly during that period because this shows an increase in the population. And besides, it is necessary to protect polar bears from possible poachers. Polar bears are included in the Red Book in Russia, and polar bear hunting has been banned in this country since 1956. However, poachers kill 150 to 200 polar bears annually. Only our united efforts can be helpful in protecting the unique animal from extermination, Viktor Nikiforov says.

"There’re about 21,000 polar bears in the world today. There’re approximately5 to 7,000 polar bears in Russia now. Russia shares its polar bear population with Norway in the west and with Alaska in the east. Experts say that climate change may lead to the decrease in the polar bear population by 30 to 50 per cent in the coming 20 to 30 years."

The so-called “bear patrol” was established in the Russian sector of the Arctic Region by WWF-Russia 5 years ago to monitor the situation there during the migration of polar bears, to protect the rookeries of walruses and also for the ecological education of the local population. Other countries, where polar bears live, including Canada, the USA, and Denmark (Greenland), plan to adopt Russia’s experience in this field, which proved effective, as well.

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