Polar bear attacks tourist on Norwegian island

A polar bear has injured a French tourist in an attack on a campsite in Norway’s remote Arctic Svalbard Islands.

The authorities said the woman, who has not been identified, was part of a tour group of 25 people camping at Sveasletta, in the central part of the Svalbard archipelago, more than 500 miles north of the Norwegian mainland.

The campsite is located across a fjord from Longyearbyen, the main settlement in the archipelago.

Officials responded by flying out in a helicopter, chief superintendent Stein Olav Bredli said.

“The French woman suffered injuries to an arm. Shots were fired at the polar bear, which was scared away from the area,” he added.

The woman’s injuries were not life-threatening, officials said. She was flown by helicopter to hospital in Longyearbyen.

The archipelago’s main newspaper, Svalbardposten, said the victim was a woman in her 40s and quoted local hospital official Solveig Jacobsen as saying she was slightly injured.

Mr Bredli later told the newspaper that the animal had been “badly injured” and was put down after “a professional assessment”. It was unclear how it was put down.

At least five people have been killed by polar bears in Svalbard since the 1970s. Most recently, a 38-year-old Dutch man was killed in 2020.

There was a debate after that attack about whether people should be allowed to camp in tents outdoors, but no ban has been decided.

Some residents in Svalbard, which is home to more than 2,500 people, have called for a round-the-clock polar bear watch, while others have argued all polar bears that get close to humans should be killed.

Some 14 polar bears were shot from 2009 to 2019, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported. Between 20,000-25,000 polar bears are estimated to live in the Arctic.

In 2015 a polar bear dragged a Czech tourist out of his tent as he was camping with several others north of Longyearbyen. It clawed his back before being driven away by gunshots. The authorities later found and killed the bear.

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