Five of the 19 polar bear subpopulations are found in Russia. The Barents Sea (BS) subpopulation in the west is shared by Russia and Norway. The Kara Sea (KS) and Laptev Sea (LP) polar bear subpopulations are found solely in Russia, in the central areas of the Russian Arctic. The Chukchi Sea (CS) polar bear subpopulation area encompasses the north-eastern parts of Russia and is shared with Alaska. The final polar bear subpopulation area that includes part of Russia is Arctic Basin (AB), which encompasses part of Severnaya Zemlya and the entire Central Arctic Basin, up to the North Pole.

All polar bear hunting in the Russian Arctic became illegal from 1 January 1957 and was treated as poaching. In reality, law enforcement during the Soviet period was not equally effective throughout all regions and periods of time. As a result of the remoteness of many Arctic settlements, polar weather stations, military bases and mining fields, some poaching most likely occurred.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J LioddenEstimated annual polar bear hunting statistics for Arctic Russia, 1963-2016. See the Polar Bears & Humans book for source references and more details.

Overall polar bear hunting in Russia
Exact polar bear hunting statistics for Russia do not exist, but estimates provided by S M Uspenskyi in 1969 and 1989 were the best available until 1990. Those estimates were based on reviews and expert analyses of numerous sources describing the numbers and locations of polar bears killed, and who killed them.

Statistics of illegal polar bear hunting after 1956 are scarce because poaching was hidden during Soviet rule. For example, only 47 polar bear kills were recorded from 1975–83. Of those, 30 bears were shot in defence of humans or property and the remaining 17 bears were poached. The number of undiscovered polar bear kills is difficult to discern, but from 1957–1989 the estimated annual number of hunted bears may have been approximately ten to fifteen animals in the western and central parts of the Russian Arctic, and about 20–30 bears per year in Chukotka, as illustrated in the figure above.

Illegal polar bear hunting in Chukotka was better documented after 1993 and showed an estimated annual average of 206 kills from 1994-2003. In some years, like 1997, poached bears in Arctic Russia may have exceeded 400. The figure above shows statistics derived from the best available estimates from 1993–2012, and the trend is clear. For all of Arctic Russia, elevated poaching activity of the 1990s and early 2000s dropped to around 50–70 bears in 2010, closer to the area’s illegal hunting activity from 1957–90.

Learn more about polar bears
The information on this webpage is from Chapter 2.5 in the Polar Bears & Humans book. If you want to learn more about polar bears and conservation, order a copy of the book, and support the Polar Bears & Humans project.