A polar bear spotted in Skagafjördur yesterday around 9.30 am was shot by police when it was clear that no narcotics were available to put the animal to sleep. A farmer in Keldudalur saw the bear walking along a mountain road and called the police.
The killing of the bear has caused some unrest among people. Polar Bears are endangered animals, but Icelandic laws state that if a polar bear comes to the shore and threatens humans or cattle, it is allowed to kill it.
Stefán Vagn Stefánsson, chief policeman in Saudárkrókur, made the decision to kill the bear in consult with Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, Minister of the environment. Stefánsson claims that no narcotics where available so therefore it was necessary to kill it. “The animal was moving and we could not risk to lose it out of eyesight,” Stefánsson said to Morgunbladid. “The weather conditions were foggy and the bear was moving quickly” Stefánson said.
Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, Minister of the environment says that no narcotics where available and the gun which is used to shoot such narcotics was in another part of the country. “There exists no strategy about what should be done in a situation like this” Sveinbjarnardóttir told mbl.is.
A biologist added in an interview with RÚV that Iceland lacked all the necessary equipment to catch a bear alive and keep it alive.
The chief veterinarian in Blönduós, Egill Steingrímsson, is not satisfied with the actions taken by the police. He disagrees with policeman Stefánsson and Minister Sveinbjarnardóttir about the narcotics. “I even had narcotics in my trunk and if the narcotics gun would have been sent by flight it would have arrived within an hour”
News of the polar bear was broadcast all around Iceland and by the time the police arrived, a considerably large crowd of people in cars had gathered at the mountain road where the bear was found roaming. Steingrímsson thinks the police should have closed the road. “There were around 50 to 60 people there watching. The police did not have many options when the bear ran down the hill, approaching the crowd. I’m very unsatisfied that the police did not try to catch it alive and did not close the road,” Steingrímsson said to mbl.is
Polar bears have visited Iceland every now and then by drifting ice. The oldest record of polar bears in Iceland is from 890, 16 years after settlement, when a farmer in Vatnsdalur spotted a she-bear with two cubs. The last visit was in 1993 when sailors saw a bear swimming off the coast of Strandir. It too was killed.
Polar bears were frequently tamed during the middle ages, but since then, no bear has been captured alive in Iceland. Polar bear skins were very valuable until the polar bears were preserved and the Danish crown was a sole owner of all polar bear skins taken in Iceland until 1900.