A year and a half ago, there was a big scandal as a Polar Bear was shot on Spitsbergen by a guide to rescue one of his colleagues that was attacked by that bear. This created quite an uproar on both social and traditional media and many people said that people shouldn’t go on holiday to those places. I covered this event in a series of posts on this blog. During the very first hours of this new year, another Polar Bear was shot. This time by the local government and just outside Longyearbyen. This time it hardly got any news coverage and social media also remained quiet (except for a few local groups). This bear had visited the capital of Spitsbergen already for a few times, was seen walking through the main street and was scared away each time. They tried to scare it away with snow scooters and helicopters, but the bear returned each time. After the fourth time, the decision was made to shoot the bear. Now I know, there are many differences between those two incidents, but I think both could (and should) have been avoided. On first sight, in both cases, it makes sense to shoot the bear. Most people will value human life over that of a bear. And when a bear keeps on wandering into a town with over 2000 inhabitants, it’s bound to go wrong. Or is it? From the looks of it, the bear was just curious, not aggressive at all. This particular bear had visited the town already several times in 2016 and was sedated and brought to the other side of the archipelago to avoid problems. Huh, wait, sedated and relocated, that sounds like a good idea! Why didn’t they do so again this time? Well, with Christmas and new year, everybody with knowledge on how to do so had left the islands. Hmm, so if they had more people with that experience, or if they had made sure one of those people had stayed on the island (I’m sure they didn’t let all police or firemen leave either), the bear could still have been alive?
And yes, the bear apparently already knew visiting the town was profitable. That’s why he kept coming back. Maybe they should have been a bit more persistent and scared the bear a few more times away, so he would get over his curiosity and would learn that villages are not nice places to visit. I know it’s 24h/day dark, so keeping track of the bear would be complicated, but still, it would be possible. In my opinion, for a government who always proudly tells how well protected and managed nature is on the archipelago, the decision to shoot this bear (without any imminent danger) was made far too soon. As I said before, the biggest problem of bears being shot isn’t those few bears that are shot on Spitsbergen. A total of around 1000 bears are shot each year, most of them in Canada. That is a much bigger problem that those 1-2 bears a year on Spitsbergen. But still, any avoidable dead bear is one saved. So maybe the local government can also have a look at their own procedures in this matter, instead of only making new procedures for people visiting the area.