The footage of a polar bear with “T-34” spray-painted in black on their side was reportedly first posted on Facebook by Sergey Kavry, a member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) nature organisation, and further shared by Russian local media. According to the BBC, an investigation is under way to determine exactly where in Arctic Russia the video was filmed and who spray painted the polar bear.
“T-34” was a tank that played a vital role in the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two, making the inscription on the polar bear very sinister and mysterious.
Mr Kochnev, A scientist at the Institute of Biological Problems of the North reportedly said it could take weeks for the markings to wash off, and this could cause problems for the polar bear, who relies on a white coat when hunting prey in the Arctic snow and ice. The mark could affect the animal’s ability to blend in with the surroundings and hunt for food.
Whether it was a ‘joke’, a political statement, or a scientific identification mark, marking animals can indeed have serious implications on their welfare, impeding their ability to survive. Some because of the marking technique itself (ear tagging, branding, collaring, …) some because of welfare implications of the handling necessary for the marking, others because of their consequences later on in life. Some identification marks like toe clipping or ear notching are permanent and can possibly lead to a lifetime of suspicion from conspecifics or notability for predators.
The labelling and monitoring of other animals fits into the scheme of human control or ‘the colonisation’ of the natural realm.
Marking or labelling animals raises issues that reach beyond the welfare impact on the individual animals concerned. The labelling and monitoring of other animals fits into the scheme of human control or ‘the colonisation’ of the natural realm. In tagging, branding, collaring or otherwise labelling animals, humans impose their dominance on the order of ‘things’ and display their mastership on the identification or differentiation of other animals. This also has consequences for ‘unidentified’ animals, who are relegated as ‘illegal aliens’ and can even face the death penalty for being ‘sans papiers’ (cf. unidentified animal companions, unidentified animals kept in food production industry).
I wrote about identification techniques, and how it affects other animals, and how this can be seen as a colonisation of other animals in a contribution in the book Issues in Green Criminology.
Geertrui Cazaux Labelling animals. Non-speciesist criminology and techniques to identify other animals, in: Issues in Green Criminology. Confronting harms against environments, humanity and other animals. Piers Beirne & Nigel South (eds.) 2007.
Polar Bear spray painted with ‘T-34’ baffles Russia wildlife experts, BBC, December 3, 2019.
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