A misguided prank by someone who painted 'T-34' on the side of an adult polar bear may have doomed the now-highly-visible arctic predator.
Polar bears appear white for a very good reason: visually blending in with the snow-covered background landscape gives them an advantage when hunting. Mess with Mother Nature's natural camouflage and you transfer that advantage to the apex predator's prey. That's exactly what happened to an unfortunate bruin in Russia's far-northeastern Chukotka district.
Video recorded and uploaded to a WhatsApp group for Chukotka indigenous people shows an oddly-marked bear approaching two men inside a vehicle. At first, the men were mystified by the creature's contrasting “spottiness” but once they realized the markings spelled out “T-34” (the Red Army's iconic tank from the World War II era) they swore so much The Siberian Times had to censor their exclamations!
The video began to spread virally after Sergey Kavry posted the file to his social media account. At this point it's not certain exactly where or when the video was recorded. The mystery deepens when one must consider “how” and “why” the bizarre prank was perpetrated.
According to Anatoly Kochnev, senior researcher at the Mammal Ecology laboratory at the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, “scientists could not do this,” as they would be acutely aware of the negative effect on the bear's hunting prospects. That said, how does one get a wild polar bear to stand still while you paint it? The prankster would have to have sedated the creature – not an exact task, and one that requires extensive veterinary knowledge plus access to animal tranquilizers, dart guns, etc.
With any luck, the black paint is likely to fade after a dunk or two in frigid arctic ocean waters. Hopefully the prankster will realize the error of their ways and “tread” more lightly in future.