COPENHAGEN, Denmark >> A polar bear attacked a campsite today in Norway’s remote Arctic Svalbard Islands, injuring a French tourist, authorities said, adding that the wounds weren’t life-threatening. The bear was later killed.
The woman, who was not identified, was part of a tour group of 25 people camping at Sveasletta, in the central part of the Svalbard archipelago, which sits more than 500 miles north of the Norwegian mainland. The campsite was located across a fjord from Longyearbyen, the main settlement in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
Authorities responded to the news of the attack, which came shortly before 8:30 a.m., by flying there in a helicopter, chief superintendent Stein Olav Bredli.
“The French woman suffered injuries to an arm. Shots were fired at the polar bear, which was scared away from the area,” he said. Further details on her injuries weren’t disclosed. She was flown by helicopter to the hospital in Longyearbyen.
The main newspaper on the Arctic archipelago, Svalbardposten, said the victim was a woman in her 40s, and quoted local hospital official Solveig Jacobsen as saying that the woman was slightly injured.
Bredil later told Svalbardposten that the animal has been “badly injured” and following “a professional assessment” it was put to sleep. It was unclear how it was killed.
Svalbard is dotted with warnings about polar bears. Visitors who choose to sleep outdoors receive stern warnings from authorities that people must carry firearms. At least five people have been killed by polar bears since the 1970s. In 2011, a British teenager was killed and the last time a fatal polar bear mauling was reported on Svalbard was in 2020, when a 38-year-old Dutchman was killed.
Following that attack, there was a debate as to whether people should be allowed to camp in tents but no ban has been decided.
Some residents in Svalbard, home to more than 2,500 people, want a round-the-clock polar bear watch, while others advocate killing all bears that get close to humans.
From 2009 to 2019, 14 polar bears were shot, Norwegian broadcaster NRK said. An estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears live in the Arctic.
In 2015, a polar bear dragged a Czech tourist out of his tent as he and others were camping north of Longyearbyen, clawing his back before being driven away by gunshots. The bear was later found and killed by authorities.