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Home* News and Stories → Two dead polar bears in ear­ly 2020: cri­ti­cism and inves­ti­ga­ti­ons

Two dead polar bears in ear­ly 2020: cri­ti­cism and inves­ti­ga­ti­ons

In ear­ly 2020, two polar bears died under the hands of Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties wit­hin just a few weeks: one was shot in the ear­ly morning hours of 01 Janu­a­ry by the poli­ce (Sys­sel­mes­ter; then Sys­sel­man­nen) several kilo­me­tres away from town, alt­hough it was not an emer­gen­cy situa­ti­on. Accord­ing to an offi­cial press release, ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on and trans­por­ta­ti­on to a remo­ter area were not avail­ab­le becau­se rele­vant per­so­nell was not avail­ab­le becau­se of the Christ­mas holi­days (click here to read more about this case).

Only a few weeks later, on 30 Janu­a­ry, ano­t­her polar bear died during heli­co­p­ter trans­port after ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on (click here and here to read more about this case).

It does not sur­pri­se that both cases were met with a lot of public cri­ti­cism. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties loo­ked into the case, espe­cial­ly the second one, and came to the con­clu­si­on that the­re was not enough com­pe­tence pre­sent to hand­le the pro­ce­du­re of ana­es­the­ti­zing a polar bear in this given case and that the pro­ce­du­res were gene­ral­ly not good enough. The­re was, for examp­le, no vet pre­sent when the polar bear was ana­es­the­ti­zed alt­hough vets were pre­sent in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and could have been cal­led to assist on short noti­ce (click here to read more about offi­cial inves­ti­ga­ti­ons and cri­ti­cism of this case).

anaesthetized polar bear and helicopter Longyearbyen

Pre­pa­ra­ti­on of an ana­es­the­ti­zed polar bear near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (2016).

In addi­ti­on, the Nor­we­gi­an Bureau for the Inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Poli­ce Affairs (“Spe­sia­len­he­ten for poli­tisa­ker”) star­ted offi­cial inves­ti­ga­ti­ons later in 2020. Both Sys­sel­man­nen (gover­nor and poli­ce; today known as Sys­sel­mes­ter) and the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, an aut­ho­ri­ty direct­ly invol­ved in such cases to pro­vi­de advice and actual­ly car­ry out rele­vant parts of the hand­ling, were suspect of negli­gence.

In the end, a report was publis­hed recent­ly, con­clu­ding that the cri­mi­nal inves­ti­ga­ti­on was clo­sed becau­se the­re was no evi­dence for cri­mi­nal­ly liable beha­viour. But the report men­ti­ons rele­vant mista­kes and ina­de­qua­te rou­ti­nes and com­mits the Sys­sel­mes­ter to impro­ve the rou­ti­nes.

It is remar­kab­le that the Nor­we­gi­an Bureau for the Inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Poli­ce Affairs actual­ly took up the case, and the result is, at best, a second-class ver­dict of not guil­ty. Defi­ni­te­ly anything but a com­pli­ment for Sys­sel­mes­ter and Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, the aut­ho­ri­ties who are offi­cial­ly deci­ding on and hand­ling polar bears in rele­vant cases. It can be assu­med that both polar bears might still be ali­ve given pro­per hand­ling of tho­se cases.

So far, Nor­we­gi­an poli­cy and prac­ti­cal hand­ling from offi­cial side don’t seem to know more opti­ons in such cases than sca­ring polar bears away with cars, snow mobi­les or heli­co­p­ters – a prac­ti­ce about which cri­tics say that it actual­ly tea­ches polar bears who don’t run away immedia­te­ly that it is not dan­ge­rous to be in the vicini­ty of peop­le and loud vehi­cles – and then, ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on and trans­port or a dead­ly bul­let. Non-let­hal deter­rents such as pep­per spray or pep­per pro­jec­ti­les or rub­ber bul­lets, which may make it very clear to a bear that being in the vicini­ty of peop­le isn’t a good thing without actual­ly inju­ring or even kil­ling the ani­mal, are not (yet?) part of the tool­box that tho­se who hand­le the­se cases on offi­cial behalf seem to have con­si­de­red a lot. It appears that the­re is still a les­son to be learnt and room for impro­ve­ment.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2021-12-10 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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