Record rains in July and August have swelled rivers in Russia’s Far East and caused flooding not seen in a century. Yakutia, a vast region in the northeast of tundra and forests, has been the hardest hit. More than 100,000 people have been affected and damages (10,000 homes have been ruined) expected to total 30 billion rubles (about $91 million).
Wildlife have certainly suffered. Bears have been left hungry as the floods have destroyed the blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries that they usually eat their fill of in the summer. After six cases of famished bears breaking into homes and emptying refrigerators, authorities in the Yakutia region are responding to the pleas of residents by saying they will shoot “aggressive” bears.
It is unusual for bears to attack humans and, according to the head of the region’s hunting department, Nikolai Smetanin, bears are rarely hunted. The “dispiriting cataclysm” of the flooding and the loss of the berries has led to authorities saying that people can contact them in a “threatening situation.”
Russia’s Amur region (home to endangered species including the Amur or Siberian tiger) has been the most affected by the floods, says The Moscow Times. While the floods are moving downstream to the Jewish Autonomous Area and Khabarovsk, the waters are not expected to recede from the Amur region for weeks. Cattle have drowned in droves or been killed to prevent disease. The Russian army has joined rescue workers and volunteers to build dams and pump out water; soldiers have been sent to guard abandoned houses from looters.
Ecologists are linking the floods to global warming and also cautioning that more parts of Russia could face severe weather conditions. President Vladimir Putin has been skeptical about global warming in the past, at one time joking that this would mean that Russians would have to buy fewer fur coats and have longer growing seasons. Widespread forest fires in 2010 reportedly led Putin to say that Russians were being more “open-minded” about the possibility of human activity influencing the climate.
Putin toured the flooded Khabarovsk region Thursday and thereby came “face-to-face” with the realities of climate change. But ecologists are not expecting any change in the government’s policies which have consistently put business and industry ahead of environmental concerns, The Moscow Times says.
Bears have been a symbol of Russia since at the 17th century and frequently appear in folk tales, proverbs, literature and more. Saying that “we respect the bear, we treat it like it’s another hunter,” Smetanin, the hunting director in the Yakutia region, adds that the decision to shoot bears who are “aggressive” will not mean “extermination of all bears.”
Indeed, two adult bears were flown via helicopter to high ground from the Zelyonaya resort in Sochi — in, that is, the very region where the 2014 Winter Olympics are to be held.
Given the global criticism towards Russia due to its anti-LGBT crackdown and anti-gay propaganda law, the government is, perhaps, a bit more inclined to save bears there. But starving bears in the Yakutia region are instead more likely to be killed as they struggle to survive in a flood-infested region unlike anything they have ever known before.
Photo from Thinkstock
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