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Human-Polar Bear Interactions

Part of the Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals book series (EBEMM)

Abstract

Human-wildlife interactions (HWI) are driven fundamentally by overlapping space and resources. As competition intensifies, the likelihood of interaction and conflict increases. In turn, conflict may impede conservation efforts by lowering social tolerance of wildlife, especially when human-wildlife conflict (HWC) poses a threat to human safety and economic well-being. Thus, mitigating conflict is one of the most consequential components of a wildlife management program, particularly for large carnivores. However, unlike other large carnivores, the causative factors and conservation consequences of interactions between humans and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are poorly understood. Historically, mitigation of human-polar bear conflict has been a low management priority with the exception of a few locations where conflict had been a chronic concern. In part, this was because of low human densities in most of the Arctic and sea ice act as a physical barrier regulating the frequency of human-polar bear interactions. However, as the Arctic has warmed, anthropogenic activities have increased, and polar bears have become more reliant on land. As a result, mitigating interaction and conflict between humans and polar bears has become a growing concern. In this chapter, we explore the nexus of polar bear and human behavior and environmental change in driving the nature and intensity of human-polar bear interaction and conflict. We first provide an overview of behaviors that contribute to the occurrence of interactions and conflicts. We then review historical and contemporary drivers of interaction and conflict and examine how climate-mediated changes to Arctic marine and terrestrial environments are likely to influence distribution and types of future incidents. We close by proposing a conceptual framework that conservationists and managers can use to mitigate the likelihood of future human-polar bear conflict in a rapidly changing Arctic.

Keywords

  • Arctic
  • Attractant
  • Competition
  • Conflict
  • Global warming
  • Human-wildlife interaction
  • Mitigation
  • Polar bear
  • Sea ice

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Fig. 17.1
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Fig. 17.5

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Acknowledgments

We thank S. Woodruff, A. Pagano, and R. Davis for reviewing early versions of this chapter. Any use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not reflect endorsement by the U.S. government.

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Correspondence to Todd C. Atwood or James M. Wilder .

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Atwood, T.C., Wilder, J.M. (2021). Human-Polar Bear Interactions. In: Davis, R.W., Pagano, A.M. (eds) Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Sea Otters and Polar Bears. Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-66796-2_17

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