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Bear scare

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WWF staff take measurements and genetic samples from a dead polar bear cub found on the beach during a community visit in the Russian Arctic. Photo: Tatiana Baeva / WWF-RussiaIn many parts of the Arctic, polar bears and people live in close proximity. WWF staff take measurements and genetic samples from a polar bear cub that had apparently died of natural causes near a village. The bear was found on the beach during a community visit in the Russian Arctic. Photo: Tatiana Baeva / WWF-Russia

This August, eight polar bears came searching for food in four Russian Arctic villages. WWF set out to keep both local people and bears safe.
By Tatiana Baeva, WWF-Russia

“Just imagine: you wake up in the morning, go to the bathroom to take a shower, and see a polar bear staring at you through the window! It is important for WWF that neither people nor bears suffer from such encounters”, explains Victor Nikiforov, head of WWF-Russia’s Bear Patrol project.

As Victor explains, the solution is to show to bears that human settlements are dangerous. To do that, local WWF Bear Patrols scare the bears away by waving large sticks and hitting them with rubber bullets. Don’t worry – rubber bullets don’t hurt the bears. To them, they are a small nuisance, like being hit by a pea. But they understand that the place is strange and unsafe and prefer to leave.

Experts from WWF, together with the local administration, visited four Arctic villages. By the time WWF arrived, the polar bears had already peacefully left the villages on their own. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes such visits results in tragic events. The team offered tips on how to deal with approaching polar bears.

It is best to avoid the encounter altogether. But what to do if the worst happens and the bear is already close to you?

“Always, when there’s a chance of meeting a polar bear, have a long, thick stick with you. If a bear approaches you and it is too late to hide, the stick will help save your life. At first, the bear may pretend to attack you without actually doing so. This is called a “false attack [or bluff charge]”. When that happens, don’t wait for the real attack. Position the stick so that it hangs over the bear, but don’t strike. Usually, this scares the bear away and it leaves”, explains Victor.

WWF and the local administration will publish a brochure for local communities with tips on avoiding and scaring away polar bears.

WWF supplied all the four villages with rubber bullets, just in time. Shortly after the team left, polar bears again approached one of the settlements. This time, both bears and people remained safe – the Polar Bear Patrol quickly and safely drove the bears away.

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