A starving polar bear seen scavenging for food in a major industrial city in northern Siberia has been captured and transported to a wildlife park for treatment.
Specialists with the Roev Ruchey Zoo in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, told the Siberian Times that the female polar bear, which has been roaming the Russian city of Norilsk since at least Sunday, is in need of “urgent medical treatment.” Experts believe the animal, initially thought to have wandered hundreds of miles from its natural habitat in the Arctic, instead may have been taken as a cub and raised in captivity by pelt traders, according to the newspaper.
A veterinarian told the Siberian Times that the polar bear is being “isolated from unnecessary attention.”
“It was obvious from the first moment we saw her that she was very stressed due to being in the city and surrounded by so many people,” veterinarian Georgy Belyanin said.
The bear was sedated on Thursday and taken to Krasnoyarsk on Friday.
The polar bear showed up over the weekend in Norilsk, which has been called Russia’s nickel capital, and, for days, was spotted wandering throughout the city, searching for food. Photos showed the animal trudging across a busy road with muddy paws, digging through rubble and trash and lying down from apparent exhaustion on the ground.
Wildlife experts were called to assess the polar bear and determine whether it could be taken back to the Arctic.
But after sedating the animal, experts said it was severely ill, at least partly from feeding herself from garbage dumps, and would need medical care, according to the Siberian Times.
Experts developed new theories about how it came to be in the city, speculating that it may have been raised there by poachers who intended to sell it for its pelt. The experts explained that it is typically males, not females, that migrate long distances, and said this polar bear was too clean to have made such a trek, the Times reported.
The experts told the newspaper it’s possible that poachers released the animal to avoid being caught and punished.
The Siberian Times reported that Russia toughened its penalties for polar bear poaching last year.
The recent polar bear sighting in Norilsk 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 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.”