discussion / Human-Wildlife Conflict  / 27 November 2019

Temporarily marking of polar bears entering villages

Dear HWC community,

I'd like to share with you a challenge highlighted by my colleagues of the WWF Arctic programme and hope you might have any suggestions!

In various Arctic communities we've helped to set up so called polar bear patrols. These people help keep villagers safe from polar bears wandering around. They escort children to school, help reduce attractants and scare a way bears that are coming too close to the settlement.

The idea to temporarily mark bears that are coming near communities came up. This would help the patrols understand whether the same individuals keep coming back, with how many bears they're dealing in a season, and to identify which are actually the 'problem bears'.

However, there are concerns that colour marking on the bear's coat would disadvantage the bear's ability to hunt if it makes them stand out more against their background. Also there are culturally related concerns, such as  a reduced skin value for sale by Inuit communities.

There are also challenges related to the actual administration of the paint onto the bear in an easy and safe way. Paint bullets are often not very accurate which can lead to hitting vital organs or the animal's head.

So the question is twofold:

1. Are there types of paint that can be easily washed off (but will not wash off when a bear takes a swim), or perhaps fluoresent under UV light or similar?

2. What would be the best way to adminster the paint only a polar bear which has not been sedated?

Loking forward reading your responses!

Best regards,
Femke Hilderink

Hi Femke, did you get any responses to this question? If so I would be interested in hearing what came up. 

Long ago I was trapping small mammals and we would use picric acid (fluorescent yellow) to dye the hair on the bellies of mice and voles. It is a bit explosive esp if it drys out but we never had any issues of that sort. Maybe there is a safe and stable form that could be deployed via paint gun - I seem to recall that the Polar Bear Alert Team in Churchill Manitoba tested paintballs on polar bears but not sure of the results. 


Hi @Femke_Hilderink , long time no speak! 

What an interesting problem/project! 

Does it have to be paint, as there was this project a while back: 

I don't know how it's going, but am really interested to hear anything...

If something like paint is preferable, maybe drones delivering it could work? I am super interested in using drones to drop tracking tags onto animals, and polar bears are big enough targets to give this a rip snorting go! Happy to discuss.  

I had a colleague that used food dye to temporarily colour Australian ibis at refuse sites. If memory serves they trialled sprinklers and super soakers for delivery with some success. I can try and dig up more information if you like?

Or could their foot pads be painted, as maybe they could 'pick up the paint' by walking over an area with paint on the ground? That way their coats are left relatively untouched...

Looking forward to hearing other ideas!