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Polar Vortex: Russian Archipelago Bear-ly Able To Maintain Safety

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Polar bears have been arriving in settlements of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, endangering residents. (illustrative photo)

Russian officials have declared a state of emergency in parts of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago after what has been described as a “mass invasion” of polar bears in the islands' human settlements.

Authorities on February 9 said incidents have been reported in Novaya Zemlya towns of bears attacking people and entering residential and government buildings.

“People are scared, afraid to leave the house, their daily activities are disrupted, and parents are afraid to let their children go to schools and kindergartens,” said Aleksandr Minayev, deputy head of the administration of the Novaya Zemlya Municipal Educational Institution.

Ilya Mordvintsev, a lead researcher of the Severtsev Institute of Ecology and Evolution, told state-run TASS news agency that the influx of bears is being caused by the seasonal migration of animals and the availability of edible wastes in the island settlements.

The Novaya Zemlya chain is located in the Arctic Ocean in the northern Russian Arkhangelsk region.

Authorities report that the bears began gathering near human settlements in December.

Arctic sea ice has been diminishing -- a result blamed on climate change -- forcing polar bears to change their hunting habits and spend more time on land looking for food.

"Unlike previous years, they come ashore in the southern part of the archipelago, where the ice is changing. They migrate through Novaya Zemlya heading to the north, where the ice is solid," Mordvintsev said.

"They are staying [near the main settlement of Belushya Guba] because there is some alternative food. They normally would just go past, but [they are attracted] by the food.”

A local administration chief, Vigansha Musin, said at least five bears were on the territory of the local military garrison, “literally chasing people and even entering the entrances of residential buildings."

"I've been on Novaya Zemlya since 1983. There's never been such a mass invasion of polar bears," he said.

Local officials said extra fences have been installed near schools to ensure the safety of children, and military and other security personnel are carrying out patrols.

The Russian environmental watchdog said it is sending an expert team to the archipelago to assess the situation and prevent attacks on humans.

Officials said it is hoped that firearms will not be needed to drive the bears away, but they cautioned that culling of the animals cannot be ruled out.

The bears have been declared an endangered species, and hunting of the animals has been banned by the federal environmental agency.

With reporting by the BBC, TASS, and The Barents Observer
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