Hungry polar bears are becoming reliant on landfills and nearby trash as they cope with climate change destroying their habitat.

Source: Reuters/Youtube

Scientists published a report in the journal Oryx warning of the threat that trash poses to already vulnerable polar bear populations. Bears increasing reliance on landfills near northern communities for food has led to deadly conflicts with humans.

The problems of food conditioning in polar bears have been reported in all five polar bear range states, including the USA, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and Norway.

“As polar bears spend increasing amounts of time on land as a result of climate warming-driven sea-ice loss, the likelihood of them seeking anthropogenic food increases,” the report states.

“Bears and garbage are a bad association,” said co-author Andrew Derocher. “We know that very well from a brown bear and black bear perspective, and now it’s an issue developing with polar bears.”

Polar bears rely on sea ice to hunt seals. However, amid the rising global temperature, the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. Sea ice is melting earlier and freezing later, which is forcing bears to spend more time on shore, away from their natural prey.

The report says that polar bears are gathering around open dumps in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Consuming the garbage can make the bears sick, and they end up eating plastic and other materials that can cause death and block their intestines. There is also a concern about local wildlife managers killing the bears out of concern for public health.

“Bears don’t know all the negatives that come with plastic ingestion and the diseases and toxins they’re likely exposed to in a (landfill) setting,” said co-author Geoff York.

Unfortunately, scientists say that the problem is likely to get worse. Human populations are increasing in places where thousands of polar bears live. In Nunavut, Canada, home to thousands of polar bears, the population has been increasing and is expected to grow 40 percent by 2043.

These rural areas often do not have great waste management due to temperature and location. When the ground is frozen, it is hard for them to bury garbage, and getting trucks out there is expensive. The scientists say that to fix this problem there will need to be federal funding.

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