Climate Witness: Vladilen Ivanovich Kavry, Russian Federation
I was born in 1966 and I have lived here all my life. For generations my people have hunted marine mammals and herded reindeer for our livelihood. There are about 200 people in my village and several thousand more people living in villages spread out along the coast. We live surrounded by Artic wildlife and are use to the frozen conditions, strong winds and ice storms.
In the winter the sea freezes and the rivers close over. We have been able to walk on the sea ice for generations. Our village is on Cape Vankarem, a unique natural area where there is one of the largest walrus haulout site in north-eastern Russia.
Walrus "haul out" of the water to rest and bear their young during the summer. They are adapted to living on sea ice for most of the year. When there is no ice they haul out on the coastal sites. The walrus resting area is very close to our village but we have lived together without disturbing each other.
Shorter periods of sea ice
In my lifetime I have noticed significant changes in the cycle of freezing and thawing. The ice-forming period now lasts for about a month, which is longer that before. The ice now breaks up a month earlier than before.
Many of the people in my village have experienced the ice fields melting that used to last all summer, and there is no more old ice left here.
The changes to the seasons mean that the walrus stay longer at their haulouts. My friend Tilmyet, who is 82, says that the walrus are tired and have nowhere to rest because there is no more ice in summer.
We also see birds like ducks, gulls and snow buntings and leaving the area later, because of the change in the length of the seasons.
Polar bears, walruses and humans
During the last few winters we have noticed that the walrus haulout is more crowded. Also, more polar bears come closer to the walrus settlement and our village. We are pretty sure the more bears are here because of climate change. The bears depend on sea ice to get to their prey, mostly seals and without sea ice their hunting ground is shrinking.
The polar bears cause problems because they come looking for food in the village and often attack the sled dogs. It was not unusual for ten to visit the village in one day when foraging. We need to scare them away.
Polar bears are protected in Russia and hunting has been banned since 1956. We are now working to keep the bears away from people without hurting them."
Out on bear patrol
"In 2006 I worked with WWF to set up a “bear patrol”. The patrol goes out around the village and puts out an alarm if the bears get too close. This way we can save both bear and human lives. In this way, the famous WWF panda bear is helping to protect the Artic polar bear.
We also keep humans away from the Walrus haulout. When people get to close to the walruses they panic - many can die in the squeeze. The smell of dead walrus attracts bears to the area, very close to our village, creating danger for people. Late last year, the bear patrol took some dead walruses on a tractor to a feeding area 10km away from Vankarem. This seemed to keep the bears satisfied.
The patrol is also collecting information to help WWF monitor the population changes caused by climate change. We are trained in monitoring and take radios and other equipment other on patrol. The feeding point is one of our observation posts."
Working for the future
"In 2006 we asked the government by petition that Cape Vankarem become a nature reserve because of its unique wildlife and environment.
I am very proud of my landsmen. People have lived here for centuries, and nowadays we have to work so that our children can admire the beauty of the land."
Scientific reviewReviewed by: Dr Oleg Anisimov, State Hydrological Institute, St.Petersburg, Russia
Vladilen's story is consistent with what scientists expected to happen under the conditions of the warmer climate. Interestingly enough, some of the environmental impacts in the Arctic that were predicted in late 1990s have already been observed, as illustrated by Vladilen.
Modern geographical science operates with the complex mathematical equations and models to predict changes in sea ice, animal habitat and behavior. Observations and traditional ecological knowledge of the indigenous peoples of the North are however the only sources of information about the changes that take place in reality. Here we see that the observations support the theory.
One of the conclusions following from the scientific readings is that the climatic and environmental changes in the last decade have exceeded the natural variability, and this is quite consistent with what people in Vladilen's village say.
- Further information about the climatic and environmental changes in the Arctic and a review of the most recent relevant scientific publications may be found in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,Volume 2, Chapter 15 (Polar Regions). Cambridge, 2007.
All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.