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A polar bear covered in cryptic graffiti was spotted in Russia, and scientists are trying to work out what it means

Bill Bostock , Business Insider US
 Dec 05, 2019, 07:05 PM
A polar bear in seen in a video shared to Facebook with "T-34" painted on its right side.
Facebook/Sergey Kavry
  • A polar bear marked with the words "T-34" on its right flank was spotted wandering around eastern Russia. A video of it was posted to Facebook on Sunday.
  • Scientists are scrambling to decipher what the words mean.
  • Some researchers told Russian media the polar bear could be related to a pack of 52 bears overran an Arctic town in February, and that scientists were tracking bears by tagging them.
  • Another researcher said the label might have been a joke - "T-34" is the name of a tank used by the Soviet Union's Red Army in World War Two.
  • The World Wildlife Fund told the BBC the apparent graffiti "looks like a bad joke."
  • For more stories go to

A polar bear spray-painted with cryptic graffiti was spotted in Russia, and scientists are scrambling to decipher what it means.

Footage taken in Russia, posted to Facebook by World Wildlife Fund member Sergey Kavry on Sunday, showed a bear with "T-34" painted in black on its entire right flank.

"Why? Why? He won't be able to hunt inconspicuously," Kavry wrote.

It's not clear where the video was filmed. Kavrys said he found the footage on a WhatsApp group for people living in the indigenous Chukotka region of eastern Russia, the BBC reported.

When the bear is first sighted, one of the men in the video asks, according to the Siberian Times: "Why is it so dirty?"

Only when the bear moves into frame, it becomes clear that the dirt is actually dark paint spelling out "T-34."

The meaning behind the graffiti is unclear, but some scientists say it may be related to the recent influx of polar bears to human settlements on the western Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlya.

Fifty-two polar bears overran the town of Belushya Guba on Novaya Zemlya from December 2018, wandering through houses, climbing walls, and patrolling roads. They wreaked so much havoc that residents had to be taken to and from work on military vehicles, and the governor declared a state of emergency.

The Russian island of Novaya Zemlya.
Google Maps

The regional Severpress news agency said scientists sent from Moscow to Novaya Zemlya to investigate the polar bear raid on the archipelago had marked the bear in the video, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

It was marked with dark ink so that scientists would notice if it returned to the town to scrounge for food, AFP said, citing Severpress.

A polar bear strolls through a residential building in Novaya Zemlya in February 2019.

Anatoly Kochnev, a mammal ecologist at the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, told state news agency RIA Novosti that the tag could well be a response to the Novaya Zemlya bear invasion.

"Perhaps they [the scientists] took some measures ahead of the upcoming winter by catching and immobilising bears," he told RIA, as cited by the Siberian Times.

However, Kochnev said he thought the tag might have been a joke. "T-34" was the name of an iconic Soviet-era tank used in World War Two.

"Scientists could not do this, it could have been somebody who 'joked' like this," Kochnev said. "At first, until he cleans himself off, it will be hard for him to hunt."

A group of scavenging polar bears filmed from a car in February 2019 in Novaya Zemlya, Russia.
Irina Elis/Instagram

A spokesperson for the WWF in Russia told BBC the graffiti was "quite a shock" and "looks like a bad joke."

Polar bears are the largest species of bear on the planet, and males can weigh 450 kilograms. When they stand on their hind legs they can reach three meters in height.

Studies have warned that melting sea ice is forcing bears to travel to dry land, change their hunting habits, or to travel further afield to find food.

The WWF in 2016 predicted that by 2050, there could be 30% fewer polar bears due to the loss of sea ice.

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