By Sarah Ann Harris
The remains of several polar bears have been found, sparking fears cruel poachers have targetted them for their skins.
The grim discovery was made on the remote island of Vaygach in the Arctic Sea by a team from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) team sent to check on their welfare.
The corpses of the two animals - one of which was dismembered - showed that they had been shot with high powered hunting rifles.
Police have now launched a hunt for the culprits.
A regional police spokeswoman said: "A recent polar bear research project was staged on the island which turned up the corpses of the two bears.
"They were killed with high powered hunting rifles and snowmobile tracks - the vehicles used to pursue them - were found nearby."
The team which discovered the remains included experts from the WWF, the Marine Mammal Council, the National Research Institute for Environmental Protection, and a member of the Russian Federal Security Service's border service.
The spokeswoman said that the remains had been found on the very first day of their expedition. The group also found bear meat in a deserted building at the Fyodorov Meteorology Station.
The body of one of the bears was still intact and tests showed it had been killed just hours before the welfare team arrived.
Viktor Nikiforov, head of the WWF Polar Bear Patrol project, said: ""It should be noted that the polar bear is listed in Russia's Red Data Book."
This is a document listing rare and endangered animals in the country.
He added: "Also, penalties have been increased for poaching, capturing and transporting polar bears.
"Thanks to our work with the border service, we managed to uncover two cases of poaching in one day.
"We hope that the poachers will be found and punished soon."