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Pollution imperiling predators? Russian experts to test polar bears for contaminants

The scientists decided to resume efforts to capture and mark polar bears, which were carried out in 2010-2012

ARKHANGELSK, April 2. /TASS/. In April 2018, researchers for the first time will test polar bears on the Alexandra Land Island (part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago) for pesticides and other poisonous chemical substances, Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution Ilya Mordvintsev told TASS. According to him, the examination of polar bears will resume on Franz Josef Land after a six-year hiatus.

"We have decided to resume efforts to capture and mark polar bears (putting collars on them with a transmitter- TASS), which were carried out in 2010-2012. Our strategy has changed - we used to take blood samples for DNA research and disease tests, as well as fur samples to check for heavy metal and mercury contamination. Now we will also take fat samples to check for persistent organic pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides and herbicides, which are carried out to the sea by river flows and work their way up the food chain eventually entering bears’ bodies," Mordvintsev said.

The Russian Arctic National Park Deputy Research Director Ivan Mizin, in turn, told TASS that April was the best month to examine polar bears on the archipelago. "The polar night has ended and travelling is possible as good snow cover still remains. This is a good time to go bear watching. This is a time when a bear and its cubs come out of their lairs," Mizin explained.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are currently 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears worldwide, with about one-fourth to one-third of them inhabiting Russia’s territory. The Russian Arctic National Park is the country’s northernmost and largest protected natural reserve, which includes the Franz Josef Land archipelago and the northern part of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.