This map shows the attacks by bears on humans across a swathe of Siberia and the Russian Far East. Graphic: The Siberian Times

By Olga Gertcyk
5 October 2015

(The Siberian Times) – The old stereotype of bears walking the streets in these regions was largely fictitious: in the past, bears and man coexisted, their paths seldom crossing, or so many experts say. This is changing as a spate of incidents highlight this year.

And the attacks from hungry bears on remote towns and settlements may not be over for winter: in some areas, brown bears are no longer hibernating in winter. Or they wake up early from an unsatisfactory hibernation.

In many places, environmentalists say that the traditional food supply for bears - for example berries and nuts - is vanishing, due to and lack of rainfalls and scorching summers that have been a feature of recent years, leading to a spate of cases of bears scavenging in settlements, or even digging up recent graves, in a desperate search for food.

In Khabarovsk, 58 black and brown bears were shot this year to protect people. On more than 120 occasions, residents appealed for help because of a bear threat. There were five attacks, one man killed and four injured.

People in Komsomolsk-on-Amur were recommended not to visit their local burial site 'after the hungry bears emerged out of the forest', eating cookies and candles traditionally  left on graves. SWAT patrols of armed police were needed for funerals because of the prowling Himalayan bears. Earlier in Tynda, in Amur region, a brown bear plundered graves and even ate human remains from newly-buried coffins. 

In late August, Luchegorsk with a 20,000 population in Primorye was literally besieged by at least three dozen black bears bossing their way around the city. In a month-long blockade, the hungry bears attacked residents in Luchegorsk and there were reports of at least eight being shot. One man was killed, another had his hand ripped off. […]

Experts explain the attacks by a variety of reasons but some suspect that an overriding factor is a change in climate, leading to a loss of food supplies. An exception may be in Tomsk region where food for bears is plentiful and has been in recent years, leading to a swelling population. More bears means more contact with humans, it is claimed. 

Nature protection official Valery Pogasienko said: 'I reckon that it is humans who cause all the trouble. Now in the region many exploration teams are working, and roads, and other facilities are built. The bears smell food which comes from settlements, camps, and temporary facilities for workers. 

'People in these exploration teams are not prepared. They do not know how to behave themselves. That they should not leave landfills of food waste, and certainly not feed the bears. People intrude into the territory of the bear. Besides, the bear almost has no enemies in the nature'. Yet it is a 'cunning, insidious beast, and it can fight back' if it feels threatened. […]

In the Russian Far East, Pavel Fomenko, WWF coordinator, explained the attacks by lack of food in the forests. Last year the pignoli nut crop was enormous, he said, and as often happens, the year after it is rather small. So there are no nuts for eating this year, and there was also an acorn shortage in some areas. The last five years were good for local bears, and their population dramatically increased, he said.

Low fish stocks in Kamchatka have caused problems this year for bears in Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands, say reports. There is also a suspicion of bears migrating from China, and this may be a factor in what happened in Luchegorsk was caused by migration in a search for food.

Bears seem to be on the move elsewhere, too, along unexpected routes for experts. Primorye animal protection official Vladimir Vasiliev said: 'I can't quite remember when bears were migrating in such massive numbers in Primorsky region. They move from the north of Primorye to the south.'

It was not clear when they start their winter hibernation, he said. 'It depends on the weather and supplies that the bears manage to collect. If there isn't enough snow or food, the bears may not hibernate at all.' […]

A report from www.meteovesti.ru said that the warming climate is leading to significant changes in bear behaviour. 'Researchers found out that bears have started breeding more often and the number of offspring cubs has increased. It is easily explained: the period without freezing temperatures has become  longer, for example, in Yakutia (also known as the Sakha Republic), it is now up to 160-180 days instead of 128 days previously. [more]

Is climate change behind new threat by brown and black bears on people?

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