Stray Polar Bear Shot and Killed in Iceland Skip to content

Stray Polar Bear Shot and Killed in Iceland

After initially losing sight of the polar bear spotted near Thistilfjördur fjord in east Iceland in the early afternoon yesterday, police and three hunters tracked it down by the abandoned farm Ósland around 4 pm and killed it.

From Greenland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

Ósland is only a few kilometers east of the farm Saverland where the polar bear was first spotted. “It was rather small and I thought it looked dreadfully tattered,” Svanhvít Geirsdóttir of Saevarland told Morgunbladid.

“It didn’t make any sounds from where it was standing by the sheepcote but it was only about ten meters away from me so I escaped into the house—I was not going to be in his way. You never know how these animals react and they are fast runners,” Geirsdóttir said.

Geirsdóttir then observed from the window how the polar bear made a somersault in an old rhubarb garden next to the sheepcote. “It must have walked into a fence. It just tripped—it wasn’t playing.” Then Geirsdóttir called the police and hid in the attic.

Police never considered other options than to kill the animal. An attempt was made in 2008 to catch a live polar bear but to no avail.

Afterwards a task force was established by the Environment Ministry to determine how authorities should react the next time a polar bear came ashore in Iceland.

The task force’s conclusion was to kill all polar bears spotted in Iceland for three reasons: they are dangerous, they are not at risk of extinction and it is too costly to save them, as Hjalti Gudmundsson from the Environment Agency of Iceland, who was a member of the task force, explained on RÚV’s news magazine Kastljós last night.

To attempt rescue the situation must be favorable, the task force reasoned. People must not be at risk, visibility must be good and it must be guaranteed that the animal cannot escape to the ocean. These factors were not at hand in Thistilfjördur.

The slain polar bear was such a young animal that police fear another bear, an adult, might be on the loose in the area. The Coast Guard will start searching the country’s northeastern coastline from air today as soon as there is sufficient daylight. People in the region are asked to be careful.

According to Morgunbladid, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists polar bears as a vulnerable species with global warming and pollution being the greatest threat to their existence.

But the species is not listed as endangered—a hunting quota for around 800 polar bears is issued each year. There are 19 polar bear stocks in the world, mostly in Canada but also in Greenland and Siberia, among other regions, which count a total of 22,000 animals.

The polar bears that come to Iceland usually originate from Greenland. They drift with sea ice and can also swim long distances. Biologist Thórir Haraldsson told RÚV that with a warming climate and continued melting of the sea ice in Arctic regions, more polar bears can be expected to arrive in Iceland than in previous decades.

At least 500 polar bears have been spotted in Iceland since the Settlement in the 9th century AD. In the 19th century there were many polar bear sightings; sometimes tens of bears came ashore in one year, Morgunbladid writes. Polar bear arrivals were much rarer in the past century.

Click here to read yesterday’s story of the polar bear.

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