Norway fines tour group for scaring polar bear

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A tour group in Norway has been hit with a large fine for scaring off a polar bear in its natural habitat, as the struggle between tourism and conservation in the region intensifies.

Polar bears are a common sight on the island of Svalbard

Polar bears are a common sight on the island of Svalbard
erectus/123RF

When a group of tourists scared off a polar bear whilst on a tour of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard they thought that was the end of their bad luck, but since the incident things have gotten a lot worse for them.

The group has now been slapped with a 1300 euro fine for disturbing the polar bear. In May of this year, the group spotted the bear from around 900 meters away, but their guide decided to approach the predator in order to get a closer a look.

The tour had been using snowmobiles for their expedition and their approach ended up spooking the animal which fled the scene. Tours are commonly run between May and September on the island to give travelers a chance to see the rare beasts in their natural habitat.

The Svalbard governor's office has justified the fine, saying in a statement "The regulations say that it is forbidden to approach polar bears in such a way that they are disturbed, regardless of the distance".

Located only 1,000 miles from the North Pole, the polar island is home to nearly 1,000 polar bears, which have been a protected species in Norway since 1973.

The number of human residents is only double that at around 2,000. Over the course of the last 40 years only five deadly attacks by polar bears were reported. The most notorious incident to take place on the islands was an attack on a British school trip in 2011, which left one boy dead.

It is legally binding for groups to carry polar bear deterrents when exploring the region with authorities recommending even taking a gun with you. However, some argue increased visitor numbers are leading to unnecessary shootings of the animals.

Polar Bears are a protected species and shooting them is only allowed as an absolute last resort. Unfortunately that not stopped polar bear numbers from decreasing.

Last year Vidar Arnesen, a chief police inspector for the governor of Svalbard, told Reuters "Four polar bears have been shot so far this year, in a normal year, one or two would be shot."

With tourist numbers increasing year on year and the polar ice cap habitat of the bears melting it's expected that encounters between the two will only increase as Svalbard tries to balance its tourism with conservation.

With this in mind it is likely the hefty fine was levied on the group to make an example of them and send a clear message to the tourism industry. However, the question remain as to whether it's enough to prevent further damage to the polar bear population and their environment.

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Benjamin Jacques
Posted on 29/08/2017 14 shares
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