Trappings of prowler: Polar bear killed by Russian researcher is fourth to die in four months; one person punished to date


A polar bear shot Tuesday by a Russian scientist at Selvågen on Prins Karls Forland is the fourth bear killed in four months due to encounters with humans, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

“The bear was shot as he approached the tent camp,” a statement by the governor notes. “The sequence of events is currently unclear, but is being investigated by the governor.”

The bear, which was previously fitted with a ear tag for observation, was a two-year-old female weighing 155 kilograms, according to the statement.

The shooting comes about two weeks after a trapper was fined 20,000 kroner for negligence after firing what he thought was a rubber bullet at a mother polar bear, but was a buckshot load instead. The incident at the Austfjordneset trapping station also forced officials to euthanize the mother’s cub after experts concluded it would not survive on its own.

A fourth bear was killed in April when it trapped four Finnish men on a beach on northern Spitsbergen, forcing one of the men to shoot it to drive it off. Officials had to seek out the wounded animal and decided to kill it after seeing the extent of its injuries. The men were subsequently judged to have acted in legitimate self-defense.

The trapper at Austfjordneset and a companion also said they had no choice but to shoot upon suddenly encountering the female bear after returning from a trip, but the lack of awareness about the man’s ammunition load was deemed sufficient for a criminal case.

“The shot that killed the female bear was intended as a warning shot,” a statement released by the governor at the time noted. But “the trapper had loaded the weapon with different types of ammunition and he did not know the order when the shot was fired. The prosecutor considers this negligence.”

The amount of the fine was determined by prosecutors in the Troms/Finnmark region after taking the trapper’s financial status into account, according to the governor’s office. The trapper, informed about the fine when visited at the station by representatives of the governor, agreed immediately to pay the fine.

The man and a companion were selected by the governor to serve as caretakers at the station for a year, beginning their shift in late May. After evaluating the incident, both men are being allowed to continue their stay, Lt. Gov. Berit Sagfossen told Svalbardposten.

“But we have followed up with a long conversation about dealing with polar bear incidents,” she said.

The trappers found themselves in another polar bear encounter about a week ago that may have reveaed what the cub’s life would be like if it had been a year old.

“The trappers called at 10 a.m. and said the bear had repeatedly tried to approach the cabin,” Police Chief Lt. Irene Sætersmoen told Nordlys. “They had done their utmost – with a broomstick, a flare gun and rubber bullets – to scare it away without success.”

Such behavior is unusual for a polar bear, but Sætersmoen said it may have been due to the foodstuff at the station.

“But based on our analysis we found out that this was a relatively young bear, only two or three years old, and which probably has recently been separated from its mother,” she said. “So it might not have ever known how to behave.”

Or “it may simply seem like we have to deal with young bravado,” Sætersmoen added.

Officials from the governor’s office and Norwegian Polar Institute arrived at the station at about 8 p.m. the same day, and considered several options including evacuating the station. Ultimately, the bear was sedated and flown north to Kinnvika.