The leader of the research unit at Beringia National Park has been dismissed from his position after criticizing the construction of a military base. The dismissal followed an incident on the island, which is a national park and polar bear sanctuary. Last December, one bear was killed on Wrangel Island after an explosive device had detonated in the bear’s intestines. The device had been tossed at the bear, apparently in self-defense, by a member of the personnel of a newly build Russian military base on Wrangel.

Wrangel Island is situated approximately 150 km from the Russian Far East coast in the Chukchi Sea. People lived on Wrangel until 2003. It had been declared  a strict nature reserve in 1976 and became a World Heritage Site in 2004.
Wrangel Island is situated approximately 150 km from the Russian Far East coast in the Chukchi Sea. People lived on Wrangel until 2003. It had been declared a strict nature reserve in 1976 and became a World Heritage Site in 2004.

Anatoly Kochnev, leader of the research unit at the Bering National Park (zapovednik), is requested to leave his position after he recently expressed critical views over the current military buildup in the Wrangel Island in the Russian east Arctic, photographer Mikhail Korostelev writes on his blog. Kochnev is regarded as a leading Russian expert on polar bears.

In a recent comment about last month’s brutal killing of a polar bear at the Wrangel Island, Kochnev underlined that the blame must be put not only on the killer of the bear, reportedly a cook at the local military base currently under construction, but also on the Russian authorities responsible for the military buildup. According to Kochnev, a biologist, the development of major military bases in Russian Arctic archipelagoes inevitably leads to a growing conflict level between people and the polar bear populations. As previously reported, Russia is in the process of building several major new bases in the Arctic, among them in Franz Josef Land, the New Siberian Islands and the Wrangel Island. ”The minister of natural resources is himself to blame [for the killing of the polar bear]”, Kochnev underlines in his article. ”After all, with his consent, they last year started to build a military base in the middle of the Wrangel reserve and our courageous Arctic troops conducted rehearsals [there]”, he says. ”You should never build military bases in natural reserves!” the researcher stresses.

This video snapshot from a Youtube video showing a female polar bear injured and blood spitting was the reason for Kochnev’s critic. The bear had been severely injured by an explosive, which had detonated inside the bear after it had swallowed it.
This video snapshot from a Youtube video showing a female polar bear injured and blood spitting was the reason for Kochnev’s critic. The bear had been severely injured by an explosive, which had detonated inside the bear after it had swallowed it.

Kochnev’s blog comment came after a YouTube video showing the brutal killing of a polar bear attracted widespread attention on the web. In the video, construction workers at the island first feed the bear and then gives it a box of explosives, which the bear swallowed and subsequently it explodes in the intestines of the animal. According to the bear expert, measures should be taken to prevent conflicts between the military men and the polar bears. Among them is the construction of solid fences around the camps, he suggests in a blog post. Studies conducted by Kochnev and his colleagues show a major increase in conflict situations between humans and bears in the easternmost part of the Russian Arctic. While the number of reported incidents were zero in the period 1992-1996, the number in 2012 alone was 16, of which two had a tragic ending for the people involved.

Russian scientist Anatoly Kochnev is one of the leading Russian experts for Arctic biology and had led the research unit of the Russian Beringia National Park Chukotka. Next to his work for the National Park, he also yet works at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute for biological problems of the North. Picture: Anatoly Kohen
Russian scientist Anatoly Kochnev is one of the leading Russian experts for Arctic biology and had led the research unit of the Russian Beringia National Park Chukotka. Next to his work for the National Park, he also yet works at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute for biological problems of the North. Picture: Anatoly Kohen

A military base and airfield in the Wrangel Island were built soon after the end of the 2WW. It was abandoned in the 1970s. Then, in 2014, the military men returned to the site. It is the company Rusalians, which is constructing the base for the Ministry of Defense.

Source: Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer