Polar bear conflict hits record high, raises fears in Greenland | WWF

Polar bear conflict hits record high, raises fears in Greenland

Posted on
17 December 2014
In Greenland, increasing numbers of polar bears are being killed in self-defense as the loss of their sea ice habitat pushes them towards communities, where the predators pose a real threat to humans. In East Greenland, says a new WWF report, the situation is particularly critical.

Download the report (PDF)

Twelve polar bears in the first nine months of 2014 were shot in self-defense in Greenland -- the highest figure ever recorded.

Reductions in sea ice mean the bears have fewer opportunities to hunt ringed seals, their primary prey. Hungry bears on land may visit villages in search of food. In the East Greenland village of Ittoqqortoormiit, polar bears have been spotted in or around the community several times a week, says the report, which focuses specifically on conflicts between people and bears in Ittoqqortoormiit.

Serious problem

"It is a serious problem, which has long been overlooked. People are worried about encountering one of the polar bears that are increasingly coming right into town", says Charlotte M. Moshøj, Ph.D. and Arctic biologist at WWF and author of the report.

During the two weeks she spent in Ittoqqortoormiit for this study, four bears were spotted near or inside the community. One had to be shot because it attacked two hunters who tried to chase it away.

"It's a problem for everyone, polar bears and people. The current situation is not sustainable", says Moshøj.

Fear for the future

A number of interviews with residents in Ittoqqortoormiit uncovered fears that the problem will only worsen with time. The community is calling for greater attention to the problem from authorities and the Greenlandic media.

The report provides recommendations, including:
  • Ensuring waste and dog food are stored in a way that doesn't attract bears
  • Organizing a formal polar bear patrol to scare bears away from town before they can come into conflict with people
WWF has worked for several years with the community of Arviat, Canada, to solve similar problems. Arviat instituted electric fences around the town's dump, and hired a dedicated polar bear patroller to chase bears from town. As a result, the village was able to avoid defense kills for the first time in 3 years.

"The Government of Greenland is already working on the problem, and that is good, but more must be done to help citizens in Ittoqqortoormiit feel safe and to reduce the number of polar bears shot in self-defense", says Moshøj.

Facts

  • From 2007 to 2012 at least 35 polar bears were killed in self defense in Greenland.
  • In 2014 the figure was a record high: 12 polar bears, including three cubs.
  • It is unknown how many polar bears live in Greenland, but the three populations in West Greenland are estimated at 2,500 bears.
  • The population in East Greenland is unknown.
  • Although there are currently 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the world, the iconic animals face an uncertain future. The polar bear is threatened by the loss of its preferred habitat, sea ice. By 2040, summer sea ice is projected to be limited to northern Canada and Greenland - the Last Ice Area.

Learn more

Polar bears approach Cape Tobin, near Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland.
© Charlotte M. Moshøj / WWF
Ittoqqortoormiit, East Greenland.
© Charlotte M. Moshøj