Fuzzy tracks: Circumstances of polar bear shot near North Pole remain murky as officials suppport differing claims

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Two different experts who’ve seen the videotape of a polar bear being shot near the North Pole this month are siding with two different narratives about what happened. It remains unclear who, if anyone, involved in other expeditions to the Pole were notified before they encountered the wounded bear. And it appears the bear itself is being left to its own fate.

A four-person expedition led by Dixie “Dirk” Dansercoer, a Flemish polar explorer with about 20 years’ experience, encountered the bear April 11 near the end of their “last degree” ski trip from the Barneo ice camp near 89 degrees latitude north to the North Pole. Attempts to scare it off failed and Dansercoer, who was armed with a rifle, instructed another member of the expedition to shoot the bear when it came near the group, with the animal fleeing after it was hit.

That’s about all that’s certain.

In question – and being investigated by camp officials and a polar guiding association, although nobody may have legal authority to seek charges –  is whether Dansercoer was equipped and responded properly, whether the bear presented a legitimate threat to the group, how seriously the animal was wounded, if the incident was propmtly reported and if what he told officials was accurate.

Dansercoer said he reported the incident hours after it occurred as part of a daily scheduled report the Barneo officials, but didn’t realize at the time the bear was wounded (originally stating he believed the bullet hit near the animal’s foot). There is also a post about it on his company’s official blog that was indeed published the date of the incident, according to a Google URL search.

But Irina Orlova, chief operations officer at Barneo, stated several days later on the camp’s official Facebook page he failed to notify officials there and in a subsequent post stated “we just learned the case is more complicated than it appears to be (and) Mr. Dansercoer misinformed us.”

Barneo officials have since stated they are declining to comment pending the outcome of investigations.

A search of blogs from other two companies leading expeditions to the North Pole and interviewes with several people visiting Barneo during the days before and after the incident failed to reveal any mention of the injured bear before other expeditions spotted it.

Furthermore, Dansercoer observered two sets of tracks and, while some expedition members reported seeing a bear leaving blood tracks, it appears some may hgave encountered a different bear. In all case, the expeditions reported they were able to successfully chase the bear away through intimindation.

Sharply critical statements about Dansercoer’s handling of the incident were expressed by Evelyne Binsack, one of the women in his  expedition. In a letter to the International Polar Guide Association, she stated the mechanism of his rifle didn’t seem to be working properly before the expedition, the bear was not aggressively approaching the group when it was shot and questioned why he asked another guest to shoot the bear instead of doing it himself.

She also claims subsequent analysis shows he was shot in the head and “he will not be able to hunt neither to eat. He will be starving before he dies.”

Binsack also contacted Arve Johnsen, a police chief lieutenant for The Governor of Svalbard, about her complaints and gave him a videotape she filmed of the encounter. In an interview, he said he told her the governor has no jurisdiction in the matter because it occurred in international waters, but it appears her story is credible.

“I think what the video shows will support her explanation,” he said. “His blog is a quite different understanding, I think.”

But support for Dansercoer after viewing the video was expressed in a letter by Eric Philips, president of the polar guides’ association.

“The team was armed with recommended firearms and intimidation aids and were used during the encounter to successfully ward off the bear with no injury to any of the team members,” Philips wrote. “Video evidence shows the bear running away with no clear indication that the bear was harmed.”

Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment has stated it has no apparent authority to investigate the matter since no Norwegian citizens were involved.

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