Photo by Sophie Cordon.
A polar bear that visited Longyearbyen four times since last Thursday, including minutes after midnight on New Year’s, was shot and killed by officials a few hours after the last approach because there was no other practical alternative to protect people in town, according to The Governor of Svalbard.
The bear, a seven-year-old male, was killed at 4 a.m. at Hanaskogdalen, where it had been chased after venturing from Adventdalen to the snowmobile dealerships at the east edge of town as the New Year’s Day fireworks were just being launched. Officials ultimately chased it across a cabin area across the channel, ending up between Revneset and Hanaskogdalen.
“The polar bear was killed, not because of an emergency situation, but in recent days this bear has shown repeated and very persistent approaches towards Longyearbyen settlement and therefore poses a danger to people in the city,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement. “We have made many attempts to solve the situation in ways other than killing the bear, but without success…This is the time of year when it is completely dark all day and we have very poor overview. We do not have the manpower resources to look after the population 24 hours a day.”
The bear ventured furthest into town during its first visit at about 5 a.m. last Thursday, leaving tracks just outside Kroa and other establishments in the center of town. The governor deployed all of its resources, as it would during subsequent visits, and chased it over Longyearbreen toward Colesdalen.
The bear returned early Saturday morning, venturing past Huset to just behind the recreation area at Longyearbyen School. It was again chased over Longyearbyen, but plans to push it far away to Van Mijenfjorden had to be abandoned with the bear at the far end of Bjørndalen due to weather.
It ventured down the valley toward town again the next day and was seen in a cabin area near Svalbard Airport. A helicopter and the governor’s Polarsyssel service vessel were deployed to search for it, but officials “did not have full control over where the bear was,” according to a statement issued a few hours later.
The final visit was reported to the governor’s office at 12:02 a.m., with the bear seen about about 500 meters from Svalbard Snøscooterutleie. It then ventured toward the water and cabin area across the bay, where officials gave chase to it a final time.
Previous instances of bears being dangerously close to settlements have ended with the animal being tranqualized and flown to remote parts of Svalbard. But Askholt said the holidays meant the governor’s office lacked the qualified personnel to do so in this instance.