Cases of polar bears killing and eating each other are on the rise in the Arctic as melting ice and human activity erode their habitat, according to a Russian expert.

“Cases of cannibalism among polar bears are a long-established fact, but we’re worried that such cases used to be found rarely while now they are recorded quite often,” said Ilya Mordvintsev, a polar bear expert, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Mordvintsev, a senior researcher at Moscow’s Severtsov Institute of Problems of Ecology and Evolution, added: “We state that cannibalism in polar bears is increasing.”

Speaking at a presentation in St Petersburg, Mordvintsev suggested that the behaviour could be due to lack of food. “In some seasons there is not enough food and large males attack females with cubs.”

The rise in cases could also be due partly to more people working in the Arctic and reporting such behaviour, he said. “Now we get information not only from scientists but also from the growing number of oil workers and defence ministry employees.”

This winter the area from the Gulf of Ob to the Barents Sea, where polar bears used to hunt, is now a busy route for ships carrying LNG (liquefied natural gas), Mordvintsev said. “The Gulf of Ob was always a hunting ground for the polar bear. Now it has broken ice all year round,” he said, linking this change to active gas extraction on the huge Yamal peninsula bordering the Gulf of Ob, and the launch of an Arctic LNG plant.

Russia, already a key global oil and gas exporter, is keen to develop its LNG potential in the Arctic. It has also significantly upgraded its military facilities there.

Another Russian scientist, Vladimir Sokolov, who has led numerous expeditions with the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, based in St Petersburg, said that this year polar bears had been mainly affected by abnormally warm weather on Spitsbergen Island to the north, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, where there had been no ice floes and little snow.

‘Exhausted’ polar bear found 700km from home in Russian village

Russian researchers have recorded growing numbers of polar bears moving away from their traditional hunting grounds as ice melts due to climate change.

Over the last quarter century summer-end Arctic ice levels had fallen by 40%, said Sokolov. He predicted that polar bears would eventually no longer hunt on sea ice and be confined to shore areas and high-latitude archipelagos.

Russians living in Arctic settlements have sounded the alarm over dozens of bears entering areas where people now live, particularly to raid rubbish dumps for food.

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