Russian authorities plan to change bear-hunting regulations to allow the killing of cubs in lairs during hibernation season, animal rights groups said Wednesday.

Hunting for bears with young cubs is illegal in Russia, but the rule is not enforced for hibernating bears.

The Agriculture Ministry refused to comment on the report, made by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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The group said in a statement that, under the proposed new regulations, hunters will be permitted to shoot cubs if they discover they have killed the mother in the den.

Proponents argue that hunting bears curbs threats to people living near bear habitat. But Maria Vorontsova, the International Fund for Animal Welfare's director in Russia, said officials are portraying Russia's bear population as greater than it really is.

Brown bears, numbering around 110,000, are Russia's most common species of bears, she said, and between 3,000 and 4,000 cubs are killed annually as result of den-hunting.

Bear-hunting is a tradition in Russia, but it is controversial.

In 1997, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was widely criticized for shooting a brown bear and its cubs that had been woken from hibernation.

Two years ago, a hunting official in northern Russia claimed Spanish King Juan Carlos had shot a bear that had been fed honey mixed with vodka. The official later claimed authorities pressured him to keep silent.