In what is being called a consequence of climate change, more than 50 polar bears have invaded a Russian settlement in the Arctic, forcing terrified residents to stay in their homes, according to news reports.
The settlement, Belushya Guba, is on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago off Russia’s northeast coast and has a population of about 2,500.
Officials declared a state of emergency on Saturday after reports of bears attacking people and entering homes, CNN said.
“People are scared,” local administrator Alexander Minayev told CNN. “They are frightened to leave homes, and their daily routines are broken. Parents are afraid to let the children go to school or kindergarten.”
Because polar bears are protected in Russia, residents are prohibited from killing the hungry intruders, The New York Times said. The settlement has put up additional fences in an effort to control the bears.
Generally, polar bears are born on land but spend most of their time on ice sheets and in the water, where they hunt and feed on seals, The Washington Post said. The World Wildlife Fund says that climate change has been shrinking their sea ice habitat.
Local administrator Zhigansha Musin was quoted by Russia’s state news agency as saying, “I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there have never been so many polar bears in the vicinity.”