Russia has vowed not to shoot dozens of polar bears terrorising an Arctic town amid fears a plan to relocate the predators will end in disaster.
Officials are preparing an urgent operation to sedate and remove the 52 bears after they invaded Belushya Guba on Russia’s Novaya Zemlya archipelago and started ‘chasing’ frightened locals.
The beasts will be transported a long distance away from the town – but critics of the scheme warn they could rapidly come back.
Extraordinary pictures and video show how people are living in fear in the settlement with polar bears stalking apartment blocks and scavenging at dumps.
Russia has vowed not to shoot dozens of polar bears terrorising an Arctic town amid fears a plan to relocate the predators will end in disaster. More than a dozen polar bears are pictured searching through a pile of rubbish amid a state of emergency and fears that the animals no longer feel scared of patrols
Invasion: A polar bear prowls inside a building, one of more than 50 of the endangered animals who have been terrorising residents in a remote Arctic archipelago in Russia
The head of the local settlement said that Russia’s nature conservancy agency Rosprirodnadzor – which bans slaughtering the endangered wild animals – is sending a team to the remote islands to sedate and move the animals.
‘We have introduced a state of emergency in the settlements for an unlimited time,’ said Zhigansha Musin.
‘We asked Rosprirodnadzor to provide us with people. They will catch the bears.
‘The predators will be put to sleep and taken out of the settlement. We will not shoot them. We already have a group of four people.’
The operation to clear the town of polar bears should begin within days after the specialists fly in on Tuesday, he said.
Aggressive: A polar bear at a playground on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in northern Russia, with parents left worried about sending their children to schools and kindergartens
Lurking: One of the polar bears, who cannot legally be shot because they are endangered
On Sunday his deputy Aleksandr Minayev warned that residents are ‘afraid to go outside’ and ‘daily life is in turmoil’.
‘Parents are wary of letting children to go to schools and kindergartens,’ he said.
Footage shows the bears entering apartment blocks.
But a WWF expert in Russia blamed the country’s defence ministry – which controls the territory around the settlement – for failing to act sooner.
And he forecast the plan to move the bears would end in disaster.
‘Everyone knew this might happen,’ said Mikhail Stishov, WWF coordinator for Arctic biodiversity projects.
‘There are many more polar bears on shores because of lengthy absence of ice.
‘They come to the shore, attracted by human settlements which they specially like when the rubbish disposal system is not set up properly.’
Archipelago authorities had known a problem was coming, he said.
But the Defence Ministry earlier banned WWF experts from visiting the restricted military area, he said.
Presence: Two of the dozens of polar bears regularly spotted in the area. People are ‘afraid to go outside’ and ‘daily life is in turmoil’, a local official said
He warned: ‘It’s not at all cheap and easy, to sedate and move them away.
‘We have to transport them really far, because if we just take them some 20, 30 kilometres they will be be back very soon to an area which they know has food.
‘So we are talking about a minimum of a two or three hour flight to the other side of the island.
‘And of course it will be next to impossible to move all 50 bears. But if the scientists identity a pack of leaders, or the most daring bears, then taking just them away might be worth trying.
‘The experts who will travel there have all necessary equipment and means to solve the problem.’
Alexey Kokorin, head of the WWF climate programme, said: ‘These are males, because females and cubs are hibernating.
‘But in fact both males and females see humans for just one thing – food.
Playground: One of the animals roams around a Russian yard on the Arctic archipelago
‘I think there is no other animal like polar bears that so deliberately chases humans.
‘Once they see these strange-looking two-legged seals, they know ‘Ok, this is food’.’
Musin said: ‘I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, yet I’ve never seen such a massive polar bear invasion.’
The animals are ‘literally chasing people and even entering the entrances of residential buildings’.
Shooting in the air, sounding car horns and erecting fences have all failed so far to quell the bar invasion.
Russian laws forbid the slaughter of polar bears except in specific cases where they attack humans.
The besieged town is five miles from a Russian military base.
Some experts say climate change is to blame for the bears behaviour – because the ocean is no longer frozen.