Russian scientist: wild polar bears extinct within decades

A leading authority on polar bears has said that rapidly melting arctic ice could lead to the extinction of the animals in the wild within the next three decades.

The comments were made this week by Nikita Ovsyannikov, who leads Russia’s Wrangel Island polar bear reserve. He told reporters from the Canadian newspaper the Edmonton Journal, “It is worse for Russian polar bears than the bears in Canada or Greenland because the pack ice is retreating much faster in our waters.”

Speaking about the region surrounding his facility in the Chukchi Sea, Mr Ovsyannikov said, “The best habitat is quickly disappearing. It is extreme. What we are seeing right now is very late freezing. Our polar bear population is obviously declining. It used to be that new ice was thick enough for them to walk on in late October. It now will happen much later.”

Ovsyannikov told the paper that he expects the animals to disappear from the wild within the next 20 to 25 years, not only because their habitat is depleting but also because they’re forced to venture further inland, where they’re likely to be hunted or poached.

He also expressed concerns that as pack ice continues to melt, increased shipping through the Northeast Passage will have a greater impact on Arctic wildlife. He cautioned, “It is inevitable that economic development will continue. So it is up to us to take as many precautions as possible because a shipping accident in the Arctic would be an absolute disaster for the entire ecosystem.”

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