A polar bear was killed after he attacked and killed a young woman and her son in a village in Alaska, police said on Tuesday. Experts said polar bears rarely kill humans, but climate change has caused more human-wildlife conflict.
Police said the bear roamed into the village of Wales, where he began chasing people and attacked the woman and her son. A resident shot and killed the polar bear during the attack. Wales is a small village of around 150 people on the Bering Strait that separates Russia from the United States.
It’s Alaska’s first fatal polar bear attack in more than 30 years, according to Anchorage Daily News. In 1990, a man was killed by a polar bear in the village of Point Lay in Alaska. The animal showed signs of starvation, biologists said later.
“It’s very rare for a polar bear to attack and kill a person historically, anywhere across the Arctic,” Geoff York, senior director of conservation at Polar Bears International, told news agency AFP.
“It’s even more rare for that to happen in the middle of January in the high Arctic, where there’s plenty of sea ice, and polar bears are typically out… hunting seals,” he said, adding that the polar bear in Wales was probably desperate as he had already “chased multiple people”.
Polar Bears International said only twenty people in the world have been killed by polar bears between 1870 and 2014, but it added that the frequency of attacks is increasing.
The animals face growing threats from climate change, with their Arctic sea ice environment disappearing as the far north warms four times faster than the rest of the planet. This climate change “is causing an increase in human-polar bear interaction across the Arctic,” York said.
Most polar bear attacks on humans happen between late July and early December when there is less ice around and less food to be found. Starving polar bears are more likely to be aggressive toward humans.
Some Arctic towns use polar bear guards to protect residents from the animals, but according to the Anchorage Daily News, no guard was working in Wales when the polar bear attacked the humans.