Video footage shared on social media shows a polar bear with “T-34” spray-painted in black on its side and has raised alarm among Russian wildlife experts.
These experts warn that the black markings could affect the bear’s ability to blend in with its white surroundings and hunt for food.
An official investigation is under way, with hopes to determine exactly where in Arctic Russia the video was recorded.
The T-34 was a tank that played a vital role in the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two.
The footage was posted on Facebook by Sergey Kavry, a member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) nature organisation, and then shared by local media.
“I don’t know the details of which region, district, or vicinity this [footage] was taken,
If it’s a military lettering theme… that is some kind of perverse disrespect for history.”
He also explained that the video had been shared on a WhatsApp group for the indigenous people of the Chukotka region in Russia’s Far East, and that scientists monitoring wildlife in the area would not have branded the bear this way.
Daria Buyanova, press officer for WWF Russia, told the BBC that seeing the images was “quite a shock” and that the inscription “looks like a bad joke”.
Scientists agree that it is unlikely the bear could have been painted without it being sedated.
A scientist at the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, Anatoly Kochnev, said the bear could not have been mobile, or at least must have been quite still while it was being sprayed because “the characters are evenly written and are all the same size”.
He suggested the incident may have taken place in the remote Russian region of Novaya Zemlya, where a team of specialists had earlier sedated polar bears that had been venturing into human-populated areas.
Kochnev said it could take weeks for the markings to wash off, and this could cause problems for the animal, which relies on its white coat when hunting prey in the Arctic snow and ice.
Russian media speculates that the stunt is linked to local anger at a rise in the number of polar bears coming into communities in Arctic Russia.
In February, a state of emergency was declared in the Novaya Zemlya region over the appearance of dozens of polar bears in several towns and villages in the Arctic.