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Polar bear

What threatens the polar bear?

Polar bear is a beautiful and noble animal. It is rightly considered a living symbol of the Arctic. Now, according to experts, there are 22 to 31 thousand individuals of this animal in the world. Already by 2050 the population of this species can be reduced by 30%.

The drop in the number of polar bears is associated with the following factors:

  • Poaching. In the Russian Arctic hunting of polar bears has been banned since 1956. In 1973, countries of the Arctic basin signed an Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, which, after its ratification and entry into force (in 1976), became the international legal framework for the protection, study and exploitation of this species. However, the price of polar bear skins and other poaching trophies is very high on the black market. WWF Russia fully supports Article 7 of the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the United States dated 16th of October 2000 «On the Conservation and Utilization of the Chukchi-Alaskan Polar Bear Population», which states: «None of the provisions of this Agreement gives rights to hunt polar bears for commercial purposes».
  • Global warming. According to scientists, the area of the Arctic ice cover has decreased by 25% in recent years. However, WWF experts believe that these are very cautious and overly optimistic estimates, whereas in fact the melting of glaciers is much faster. According to the US Geological Bureau, the area of Arctic ice, which is a natural range of polar bears, may decline by 42% in the coming decades.
  • Pollution of the Arctic environment. Marine waters and coastal ecosystems are polluted by pesticides, radionuclides, products of fuel combustion, heavy metals, fuels and lubricants, oil, etc. Polar bear is a long-lived predator therefore its organism is exposed to high concentrations of many toxic substances of anthropogenic character.

The state protects polar bears as a species listed in the List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (International Red Book) and in the Red Book of the Russian Federation.

Polar bears on Cape Zhelaniya (Novaya Zemlya archipelago) © Ivan Mizin
Polar Bear © Jon Aars Norwegian Polar Institute
Polar bear © Victor Nikiforov
Polar bear. Chukotka, village Ryrkaypiy © Maxim Deminov
Polar bear. Chukotka © Varvara Semenova

What does WWF do to save polar bears?

  • WWF experts took an active part in the development of the «Polar Bear Conservation Strategy in the Russian Federation». This strategy has been approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia in July 2010. It describes the specific mechanisms that allow saving of the bear populations. It indicates what legislative amendments need to be made, how to improve the system of protected natural areas, what scientific research to carry out, how to work with the public of «bear» regions to achieve the goal. WWF tries to ensure that the provisions of the strategy are implemented in practice and expects that this will bring real benefits to polar bears in the near future.
  • For several years WWF has been running the «Bear Patrol» program, which aims to prevent conflicts between bears and humans. Due of the melting of the ice, bears began to come ashore and approach human dwellings in search of food more often. Encounters often end badly, sometimes for the human, but usually for the bear, as people tend to walk armed.
  • Similar work is being done in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug where, on the initiative of WWF and with the active support of the Governor Igor Kosin, a «human — polar bear» conflict prevention group has been established. The Foundation distributes memos to the residents of the Arctic on how to save the lives of people and animals; conducts briefings and teaches local residents how to drive off a bear from a village safely.
  • WWF monitors poaching in the field and, together with the TRAFFIC organization, monitors the Internet for the sale advertisements of illegally obtained skins.
  • With the support of WWF, expeditions are carried out to count and monitor polar bears. It is extremely important for scientists to know how many polar bears live in the Russian Arctic. Only with this information it is possible to develop protective measures and make well-founded management decisions.
  • In 2016, WWF Russia and the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IPEE RAS) initiated the creation of an expert-advisory group in order to protect and preserve the most vulnerable, the Kars-Barents Sea, population of Arctic predators in Russia. For the first time in our country, leading experts have joined forces to study and preserve polar bears living in the Kara and Barents Seas.