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A challenging kill

The bear was a 116-kilogram male. FOTO: Ole Magnus Rapp

A challenging kill

The Governor of Svalbard had to euthanize the wounded polar bear.

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The polar bear killed at Verlegenhuken was hiding in a cave inside an ice formation. Only after police began digging down towards it did it emerge.

"It took quite a long time, we did not see the bear," said Christian Svarstad, a police chief lieutenant for The Governor of Svalbard. "We shot with a flare gun into the cave to try to scare it out, but that did not succeed."

Only when they began to digg down to the bear, did it came out.

Se bildet større

The polar bear took refuge in a cave, where it was killed by officials from the Svalbard governor's office. FOTO: Irene Sætermoen / Sysselmannen

"That sprinkled snow down on the bear, which was what it needed to get it out of the opening," Svarstad said. "It was stable and secure there, and allowed a targeted shot."

Officials decided it was in the bear's best interest to kill it, so it would not be tormented to death.

"But we have to think of our own safety as well," Svarstad said. "When a polar bear initially has made a decision it comes quickly and with lots of mass. We have to be cautious and take time to help."

Se bildet større

After the polar bear was shot, Kari Kossila (at left), Joonas Hiltunen, Mikko Uimonen and Eero Oura took a picture showing they reached Spitsbergen's northernmost point. Several of them have been on long polar expeditions, including to the South Pole and Greenland. Their trip in Svalbard went from Rabotbreen to Verlegenhuken and back to Brucebyen where they were picked up. FOTO: Kari Kossila

Thin and ailing

The four-person Finnish ski expedition said they attempted to approach the polar bear and kill it – after wounding the animal with a shot as it attacked them – but stopped trying because they were afraid it would go into the sea.

"I don't have a comment about that," Svarstad said.

Generally speaking, he said, if someone wounds a bear, they should continue to shoot until they are confident the bear is dead.

"Both to stop the bear's suffering and because of safety," Svarstad said. "A wounded bear is much more dangerous than a healthy bear."

The incident at Verlegenhuken is still under investigation and a report following the autopsy is not yet clear. Svarstad said he cannot say how many shots hit the bear or where it was shot. He estimated it is between two and four years old, and it was not in good health.

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The finnish skiers are questioned by police officers Irene Sætermoen and Christian Svarstad (both on the left), who travelled to the scene in a helicopter. FOTO: Kari Kossila

"There is no doubt that it was thin," Svarstad said.

The bear was a 116-kilogram male.

Unusual encounter

It's not often bears are shot in self-defense by people who are out on tour.

"Mostly the problem has been linked to the cabins and tents," Svarstad said. "But it is clear that there are some polar bears in the north and northwest, so the possibility of encountering bears is present. Come upon a bear that does not have good access to its food source and the chances are greater that it will end fatally."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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