A polar bear described as “starving and exhausted” and looking for food has strayed into a city in Russia’s northern Siberia, hundreds of miles from the animal’s natural Arctic range.
According to Reuters, the female bear who wandered into Norilsk, a major industrial town, was “visibly weak and seemly ill” and “lay despondently on the ground for hours … its feet caked in mud.”
The town’s residents photographed the animal, but police prevented them from getting too close, the news agency reports.
Although it wasn’t clear why the animal was there, Oleg Krashevsky, a local wildlife expert who filmed the bear up close, was quoted by Reuters as saying it was possible that she was simply lost. Krashevsky said that the emaciated bear had watery eyes and could not see well. He said it looked too weak to be returned to its natural habitat.
Officials said it was the first time a polar bear had been spotted in Norilsk in four decades.
The incident is reminiscent of a similar occurrence earlier this year. In February, regional officials declared a state of emergency in Belushya Guba after more than 50 polar bears invaded the Siberian island settlement, causing a panic among its 2,000 residents. Officials described the situation at the time as unprecedented.
Polar bears spend most of their lives on sea ice, where they hunt seals. Climate change has been blamed for a marked decline in sea ice and bears are reportedly moving to land earlier in the season due to a lack of ice.
The report of the bear at Norilsk comes as a team of University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers published findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters indicating that permafrost in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than previously predicted.
“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university and a co-author of the study, told Reuters. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”