Copenhagen, Denmark — A polar bear attacked a campsite on Norway’s remote Arctic Svalbard islands on Monday, injuring a French tourist, officials said, with non-life-threatening injuries. The bear was later killed.
The woman, who has not been identified, was part of a tour group of 25 people camping in Svesletta, in the center of the Svalbard archipelago, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland. The campsite was across a fjord from Longyearbyen, the main settlement in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
Chief Superintendent Steen Olav Bradley, flying in a helicopter, said officers responded to reports of the attack shortly before 8:30 a.m.
“The French woman’s arm has been injured. The polar bear was fired upon, which was scared away from the area,” he said. No further details about her injuries have been released. She was airlifted to hospital in Longyearbyen.
Svalbardposten, the main newspaper on the Arctic archipelago, said the victim was in her 40s, and local hospital official Solveig Jacobsen said the woman was slightly injured.
Bredil later told Svalbardposten that the animal was “very injured” and was put to sleep after a “professional assessment”. It was not clear how he was killed.
Polar bears are warned in Svalbard. Visitors who choose to sleep outdoors receive stern warnings from authorities that people must carry firearms. Polar bears have killed at least five people since the 1970s. In 2011, a British teenager died, and the last reported polar bear attack on Svalbard was in 2020, when a 38-year-old Dutchman was killed.
After that attack, there was a debate about whether people should be allowed to pitch tents but no ban was decided upon.
Some residents of Svalbard, home to more than 2,500 people, want a 24-hour polar bear watch, while others advocate killing all bears that come close to humans.
From 2009 to 2019, 14 polar bears were shot, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported. An estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears live in the Arctic.
In 2015, a polar bear dragged a Czech tourist out of his tent while he and others were camping north of Longyearbyen, clawing at his back before fleeing with gunshots. The bear was later found and killed by authorities.