Harboring one of the planet’s last great bastions of ice, East Greenland is a wild Arctic landscape. Polar bears reign over this raw terrain—an expanse of hardy tundra, jagged fjords and massive glaciers. But climate change is altering the bears’ habitat. The sea ice they rely on to hunt ringed seals is melting for longer periods of time, forcing hungry bears to spend more time on land. Wider wandering can put them closer to people.
WWF is using lessons learned from folks in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and Russia to help Greenland communities safely resolve human-bear conflicts. Enter Greenland’s first polar bear patrol in tiny Ittoqqortoormiit, a village just north of Nat Hab’s Base Camp. Bear encounters here are escalating: 20 meandered into town during a 3-month period in 2015.
The security of the town’s residents was elevated by WWF’s funding and training of bear patrol officers. Best of all, the patrol is saving polar bear lives. By replacing bullets with rubber projectiles, bright lights and an ATV to drive bears out of town, not one polar bear was killed in 2016, a year ripe with encounters. That’s a big contrast to two years earlier, when three bears were killed in Ittoqqortoormiit, bringing the total for Greenland to a record-setting total of 12 bears killed due to human-bear conflicts. With plans to expand this locally honed expertise to other Greenland villages, the polar bear patrol marks a big win for one of the planet’s most magnificent beasts.