Paying the ultimate price: Leader of Czech tour group fined 10K for negligence that led to polar bear attack

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The leader of Czech tour group whose campsite was attacked by a polar bear in March, resulting in the animal’s death, has been fined 10,000 kroner for neglecting proper safety precautions.The six-person group set up a trip wire alarm incorrectly and didn’t have anyone keeping watch when the bear attacked the campsite at Fredheim at about 5:30 a.m. March 19, according to a statement issued Friday by The Governor of Svalbard. One person suffered face and arm injuries before a woman in the group drove the bear off by shooting it three times with a revolver, forcing officials to track down and kill the wounded animal.

“All of the tour members were inside the tents and the only protection that was taken against polar bear attacks was one tripwire connected to a line placed so high that polar bears could pass under without triggering the flare,” the statement notes.

The fine is the first imposed under an addition to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act in 2012 that states “anyone who travels outside the settlements, except for visitors and residents who are involved in an organized tour arrangement, are obliged to have knowledge of protection against polar bear attacks and take appropriate measures to avoid the risk of attack by polar bears, and to be able to avert such an attack without injuring or killing the animal.”

The leader of the group is being held responsible because he was the most experienced, according to the governor’s statement. The penalty is for failure to take precautions, not for shooting the bear after the attack.

“There were a clear emergency when the bear entered the tent and attacked one of the people,” the statement notes. “Based on the governor’s investigation the woman who shot and injured bear in this situation was entitled to avert the attack with all available means.”

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A Facebook post by photographer Joshua Holko denounces a group of campers shortly after they were attacked by a polar bear. Numerous photos of the bear, along with his sibling and mother, were taken in the weeks before the attack, generating both interest in their living habits and warnings to not disturb them.

The attack provoked outrage among local residents and many outside observers, since the bear had been spotted and photographed with its mother and a sibling repeatedly in the weeks before the attack.

“It was shot dead because of the ignorance of tourists visiting Svalbard who set up a tent camp in an area where the bear was known to be hunting for food,” wrote Joshua Holko in a Facebook post featuring a picture of the bear. “Shame on them for being so stupid and arrogant that they put themselves in a position having having to take the animal’s life.”

He told NRK on Friday he’s pleased with the governor’s decision.

“I hope there is deterrent effect on others so they do not put themselves in the same situation,” he said.

Others, in social media posts and comments at news websites, complained the fine was too low, especially compared to the penalties for other violations. Numerous people have been fined about 11,000 kroner for cooking mishaps that have set off fire alarms during the past 18 months, for example.