It has been a busy season for the WWF polar bear patrol in Ittoqqortoormiit. At least 21 polar bear encounters were recorded this year in this village of 450 people on the east coast of Greenland.
Throughout the Arctic, the number of conflicts between polar bears and humans has risen as climate change has caused the sea ice to shrink. The bears are now forced to stay on land for longer periods than before. In their search for food, they are often attracted to communities. The problem is particularly severe in Ittoqqortoormiit, where a deluge of bears is creating life-threatening situations for both the bears and the the village’s inhabitants.
In 2007, nine polar bear conflicts were registered in all of Greenland. By 2017, there were 21 conflicts in Ittoqqortoormiit alone between August and December. In almost all 21 cases, the polar bear patrol was called to ensure that the bears were scared away from the area and kept under observation.
WWF founded the local polar bear patrol in 2015 to protect residents from dangerous encounters on their way to school or work, and to reduce the number of bears killed in self-defense. During peak polar bear season in autumn, the patrol is particularly active just before school opens each morning.
“The community members tell us that the patrol gives them greater peace of mind, and we prevent a lot of polar bears from being shot in self-defense”, says Bo Øksnebjerg, Secretary-General of WWF-Denmark. “So on the one hand, we’re glad that the polar bear patrol is working so well. On the other hand, we regret that the patrol is so busy. Everything indicates that the problem of hungry polar bears in communities will continue to grow as the sea ice shrinks.”
Even patrol members have unexpected encounters with bears
Dispatches from the polar bear patrol:
September: Dine steps outside the incineration plant early in the morning to smoke a cigarette. Flicking on his lighter, he finds himself looking into the eyes of a polar bear standing by his ATV four meters away. The bear moves straight towards him. Dines races for the corner of the building, and fortunately, the bear chooses to move in another direction.
October: Mikkel, who works at the weather station, goes to launch a weather balloon at 22:00. As he walks towards the building, he hears the ice crunch behind him. He turns around and sees a polar bear three meters away. He runs inside, and the polar bear takes off down the slope at the dump and swims towards Storesten.