Officials in Norilsk, which is above the Arctic Circle, alerted residents Tuesday that a polar bear had been seen in the Russian city for the first time in more than four decades, the Associated Press reported, citing the news agency Tass. Photos showed the female, which appeared Sunday outside the city center, trudging across a busy road with muddy paws, digging through rubble and trash and lying down from apparent exhaustion on the ground.
State wildlife experts are scheduled to assess the bear Wednesday and decide what will happen to it, according to the Guardian.
The AP reported that Anatoly Nikolaichuk, who heads the local hunting department, told Tass that authorities must also consider whether the bear can be transported by aircraft back to its home in the Arctic.
A wildlife expert who captured images of the bear told Reuters that it had watery eyes and did not appear to be able to see well.
Oleg Krashevsky told Reuters it was not clear why the animal had come into the city, but he wondered whether it was simply lost. In any case, he speculated that the animal may be in too poor condition to return it to its natural habitat, according to the news agency.
The recent sighting is reminiscent of one earlier this year in which dozens of polar bears invaded a Russian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
In February, local reports estimated that about 50 polar bears had taken over Novaya Zemlya, popping up in buildings, on playgrounds and at a local garbage dump. As The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reported at the time, officials declared a state of emergency, many people were too scared to leave their homes or let their children play outside, and military personnel were being transported to work sites in special vehicles.
As Stanley-Becker previously reported, polar bears “are classified as a vulnerable species because of the ‘ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change,’ according to the World Wildlife Fund. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that there are 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears worldwide."
The U.S. Geological Survey warned in 2007 that two-thirds of the global population of polar bears could be wiped out by 2050 because of thinning sea ice.That prediction has periodically found stark visual expression. In December 2017, the world’s attention was briefly focused on a video of an emaciated polar bear, struggling to stand in the Canadian Arctic.“This is what starvation looks like,” Paul Nicklen, the photographer who captured the scene, wrote on social media. “The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner.”