NPR logo Hungry Bears Look To Towns, Graveyards In Russia


Hungry Bears Look To Towns, Graveyards In Russia

The hot dry summer that caused dozens of deaths in Russia is now having a shocking after-effect. The heat killed vegetation that sustains the country's 140,000 bears — and now they're venturing into villages, and even cemeteries, looking for food.

Residents of the Arctic Circle region of Komi are mounting patrols to protect people and livestock from brown bears. The mushrooms and berries the bears usually eat are scarce after this summer's drought.

And there's been at least one report of a bear gaining access to a coffin.

Citing the Moskovskij Komsomolets newspaper, the AP says that "one body was devoured in the village of Verkhnyaya Chova over the weekend. Two visitors to the cemetery shrieked at the shocking sight of the animal tearing into half-decomposed flesh, scaring the bear away, the paper reported."

In England, The Sun talked to a wildlife expert who confirmed the episodes.

"You have to remember that bears are natural scavengers. In the U.S. and Canada you can't leave any food in tents in national parks," said International Fund for Animal Welfare's Russia director Masha Vorontsova.

"In Karelia one bear learned how to do it [open a coffin]. He then taught the others. They are pretty quick learners."

That's really all anybody needs, right? A bunch of marauding, ghoulish bears that are teaching one another to be graverobbers. But the recent reports shouldn't be seen as isolated incidents. According to the AP:

Attacks on people by some of Russia's 140,000 bears are on the rise nationwide, and concentrated in the country's Far East, where rampant fish poaching often forces the bears to seek other sources of food, such as garbage.

In the most notorious incident, in 2008 a pack of up to 30 Kamchatka bears - which are similar to grizzlies - prowled around two mines of a local platinum mining company where they killed the two guards and laid siege to workers inside company premises.