It surely seems like common sense that 1) the death of a manager at Longyearbyen Camping and the polar bear that fatally attacked him are tragic, and 2) the person who shot the polar bear trying to save the manager during the attack acted reasonably.
But that’s what a full-blown investigation by prosectors – routine and often lengthy in human/bear encounters resulting in the death of the protected species – will determine, The Governor of Svalbard declared Tuesday.
The announcement of the investigation comes 11 days after Johan (“Job) Jacobus Kootte, 38, of Amsterdam was fatally injured during the attack as he lay in his tent shortly before 4 a.m. at the campsite next to Svalbard Airport. Another person staying at the campsite quickly responded and shot the bear, which fled and died a short distance away in the parking lot of the airport.
Officials with the governors office spent several days interviewing those at the campsite and putting together details of the incident and campground’s procedures as part of a preliminary inquiry.
“We believe we have received a reasonably good overview of the course of events,” Lt. Gov. Sølvi Elvedahl told NRK. “The person who shot the polar bear has the status of the accused – and that will also be assessed regarding the emergency law provisions.”
Longyearbyen Camping will also be investigated to determine if their safety precautions were adequate, Elvedahl said. Some have questioned why there was no fence around the campsite, full-time guard and/or why guests were not allowed to have loaded firearms.
The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act makes it illegal to act in manner harmful or disruptive to wildlife. But there are emergency provisions regarding legitimate protection of human life when other reasonable precautions are either ineffective or not possible.
An investigation does not suggest officials are inclined to seek charges. Last week, following an investigation of more than two years, prosecutors announced they would not seek charges against two cruise ship crew members who fatally shot a polar bear while scouting a shore in north Svalbard for a passenger excursion. That decision – and arguably the circumstances – were far more controversial since an actual attack did not occur and many observers said alert crew members should have seen warning signs from the water such as bear track.
In a message to NRK, another person at the campsite credited the shooter with saving the lives of others.
“The shooter also protected the rest of us at the campsite and chased the polar bear away so that we could live,” the person wrote. “It is, of course, sad that a polar bear has to pay with his life. But precisely in this situation it was crucial in trying to save human lives.”