Something strange is happening in Novaya Zemlya, a remote, northern Russian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Authorities there have reported that the tiny islands, home to just a few thousand people, are playing host to a polar bear invasion. A state of emergency has been declared as dozens of bears have entered the towns in the region to look for food.
Officials in Belushya Guba, the main city in the archipelago, have reported 52 polar bears in town. “I’ve been on Novaya Zemlya since 1983,” local administration head Vigansha Musin told The Siberian Times. “There’s never been such a mass invasion of polar bears.”
Since polar bears are endangered in Russia, locals are forbidden from shooting them. According to the BBC, the Federal Environmental Agency is refusing to issue special permits that would allow residents to hunt the bears. “People are scared, afraid to leave their homes, their daily routines are being broken,” said Alexander Minayev, the deputy head of the local administration. “Parents are unwilling to let their children go to school or kindergarten.”
It’s believed that the bears are being forced into villages to look for food as their natural habitat disappears. “With Arctic sea ice diminishing as a result of climate change, polar bears are forced to change their hunting habits and spend more time on land looking for food,” a BBC reporter wrote, “which potentially puts them in conflict with humans.”
According to residents, the bears have become increasingly comfortable around humans. “There are no more enemies,” said Anastasia Bondarenko, who is local to the area. “They became insolent. This is scary. When they walk under your window at night, it is creepy.”
Of course, since it’s Russia we’re talking about, it’s not just the bears who’ve become comfortable. In one video, a man can be seen walking calmly past an animal foraging for food.
The Siberian Times reports that “a team of ‘specialists’ is now on the way to the stricken town” to try and assist with the problem.