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Polar bears are dying out in the remote Arctic region of Chukotka because of melting ice and increased killing by humans, an expert with the International Fund for Animal Welfare warned on Friday.
“If this tendency continues, the population will disappear very quickly, said Nikita Ovsyanikov, a researcher from Wrangel Island natural park in Chukotka who has spent the past 18 years studying polar bears in the region.
“We need to create new protected areas in the Arctic,” said Ovsyanikov, who has conducted research on behalf of IFAW.
The shrinking of the Arctic ice sheet is forcing more bears to live on land in the summer where they often have trouble finding food, which means they have to go into villages to scavenge and are more likely to be shot, he said.
Polar bear furs are also becoming increasingly popular in Russia, where the killing of polar bears is strictly forbidden except for self-defence. IFAW estimates around 100 polar bears are killed illegally in Russia every year.
There are a total of around 22,000 polar bears in the Arctic. Five thousand of them live between Chukotka and the US state of Alaska and are being forced further and further north because of the melting ice, IFAW said.