Local officials in an Arctic region in Russia have reportedly declared a state of emergency after villages have been overrun by packs of polar bears, a phenomenon wildlife experts have said occurs as a result of global warming.
According to ABC News, authorities in the remote region have confirmed that a team of specialists will be arriving in Novaya Zemlya, Russia, to assist local officials with the removal of the bears.
Authorities said the bears have been gathering in areas populated by humans in increasingly large numbers since late last year.
Alexander Minaev, the deputy head of the local municipal administration, told the Russian news agency TASS that more than 50 bears have recently been discovered near the main population center in Novaya Zemlya.
Footage released by Russian outlets have also reportedly shown dozens of polar bears digging through trash at a garbage dump nearby and one video even reportedly showed a bear roaming through a building.
The events led to local authorities declaring a state of emergency on Saturday.
“I have been on Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there has never been such an invasion of polar bears before,” Zhiganshi Musin, who heads Novaya Zemlya’s administration, told TASS.
“They are literally chasing people and going into the entranceways of housing buildings,” Musin continued.
According to ABC News, wildlife experts have pointed to melting sea ice and rising Arctic temperatures caused by global warming as the culprit for the bears’ invasion. They say the effects of global warming have reduced the bears’ typical hunting grounds and forced them to explore other alternatives inland for food.
“Everyone understood that this could happen,” Mikhail Stishov, the project coordinator on Arctic biodiversity at the World Wildlife Fund, told Russian outlet RIA Novosti.
“Now the bears are increasingly on the shores on account of the absence of ice for long periods. They come onto shore, where they get used to human housing, especially if the system of garbage disposal isn’t very well set up,” he continued.
In Russia, polar bears are still classified as an endangered species and are illegal to kill with firearms.
Officials have reportedly said they are hopeful that specialists being flown to the region to aid the removal of the bears will not resort to using guns, but it also added that they may be forced to if other efforts to remove the animals prove unsuccessful.