Bear with tin can stuck in its mouth 'a litter warning'

The polar bear cub with a discarded tin stuck on its tongue Image copyright Dvorjchenko Vitaliy/The Siberian Times
Image caption It is thought the cub was unable to eat for two weeks because the can was stuck to its tongue

The senior wildlife officer of a remote Russian island has called on people to be careful when discarding litter after the emergence of photos of a polar bear cub with a tin can stuck in its mouth.

Alexander Gruzdev, head of Wrangel Island's nature reserve, told the BBC the cub was unable to move the can for two weeks and was becoming stressed.

It is believed that the jagged edges of the can got wedged in the cub's mouth.

The can was removed after rangers shot the bear with tranquilisers.

The bear was spotted by them earlier in the autumn with the condensed milk can in its mouth as it was following its mother who was scavenging for food on the remote island, The Siberian Times reported last week.

Image copyright Dvorjchenko Vitaliy/The Siberian Times
Image caption Both mother and cub were tranquilised before the offending can was removed
Image copyright Dvorjchenko Vitaliy/The Siberian Times
Image caption The bears are not expected to suffer long-term injuries as a result of the episode

The rangers tranquilised both the cub and its mother before carefully removing the can from the yearling's tongue with the minimum of bleeding.

"Happily, it all ended well and I hope there will be no similar situations in the future," Mr Gruzdev told the BBC.

"But the case highlights the risk to wild animals from man's garbage."

Mr Gruzdev said that there have been several other cases of human litter affecting the island's wildlife.

"Animals can eat plastic bags in which food has been stored," he said.

Wrangel Island

  • Has the highest density of polar bear dens in the world
  • Is believed to have been one of the last refuges of woolly mammoths before their extinction
  • The International Date Line is displaced eastwards to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland
  • The distance to the closest point on the mainland is 140km (87miles)
  • Nearly all of it is a federally protected nature reserve administered by Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Is about 125km (80 miles) wide and and 145km (90 miles) long from coast to coast

"We have even had a case of a fox thrusting its head into a bottle bank and being unable to free itself.

"We have to constantly remind people about the best ways of disposing of their rubbish."

Image copyright Wrangel Island Nature Reserve/The Siberian Times
Image caption It is thought the bear got the can from rubbish that was collected to protect polar bears and other wild animals

Mr Gruzdev said the offending can was discarded by a group of workers who ironically were tasked with clearing debris on the island - some of it dating from from Soviet times.

"The workers used a barrel as a trash bin," he said. "They gathered everything left from their camp, including empty cans, so later this could be collected and taken away along with other garbage they had collected.

"The bear cub found this barrel before it was taken away. It was unfortunate - the cub's mouth got stuck in the can, probably with its tongue, while trying to lick the inside."

The rangers say no lasting damage was done to the cub. and efforts are continuing to remove tons of rubbish that could harm polar bears and other wild animals.

More on this story

Around the BBC