AFP, published on Thursday, January 19, 2023 at 10:47 am
A 24-year-old woman and her infant were killed by a polar bear in a remote village in Alaska, authorities in this American state announced on Wednesday, an extremely rare attack from this species particularly threatened by climate change.
The bear entered Wales, a small town on the shore of the Bering Strait, on Tuesday, “and chased several residents”, according to the first elements disclosed by the police of this American state in a press release.
“The attack would have taken place in the village, near the school” and “the animal was shot by a resident”, while attacking the young woman, Summer Myomick, and her son Clyde One-year-old Ongtowasruk, she said.
Police and specialized agents must be sent to this village of about 150 people, populated by the Inupiat tribe.
But they are currently facing “bad weather conditions” which prevent them from going there, according to the press release.
“Historically, it’s very rare for a polar bear to attack and kill a person anywhere in the Arctic,” Geoff York of the NGO Polar Bears International told AFP. “It’s even rarer for it to happen in mid-January in the northern Arctic where ice is plentiful and polar bears are usually out on the pack ice hunting seals.”
Worldwide, twenty people have been killed in a total of 73 polar bear attacks recorded between 1870 and 2014, according to the NGO. The last fatal attack in Alaska dates back to 1990, according to Mr. York.
In general, the melting of the sea ice caused by global warming, pushes the plantigrades on the continent more regularly and “increases the frequency of interactions between polar bears and humans”, continued the scientist.
But “historically, most attacks have taken place between late July and early December, during the ice-free period,” he added.
The attacks are generally carried out by “young bears (…) which are voracious because their bodies require energy for their growth”, or “bears at the end of their life which have difficulty fighting with the other bears for good hunting areas,” he said.
In the case of Wales, it will be necessary to wait for the investigation to develop to really understand what happened, he concluded.
In Alaska, polar bears are found only on the far northern and western coasts of the state. Climate change, which is melting its main habitat, the pack ice, is threatening the bear species.