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Polar bear

The white Polar bear

The Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) lives on a wide territory. The skin of the Polar bear is black to attract the sun’s rays but its fur is whitish. It runs 100 metres in two seconds so it is best to keep away from it. That said, it cannot run for long distances since it can not sweat.

The Polar bear is the symbol of Svalbard. In these islands, every thing and every topic of conversation relates to the bear. It is a protected animal.

Svalbard: the territory of the Polar bear

Polar bears are at home in Svalbard. These islands are its world and its hunting terrain. He moves everywhere, on beaches, hills and in the sea to look for food.

A trip to Svalbard gives you the chance to see the Polar bear. Our group saw it three times whilst we were on the boat. Personally, I saw it only on two occasions.

The Polar bear walks slowly, sniffs the ground, jumps into water and lays on the snow to rest.
When we saw it at the end of the first camp, it did not pay much attention to us. Without doubt it saw and smelt us, but we were obviously of little interest to it.

Bear watching

Bear spotting has two conflicting aspects. On the one hand you have the curiosity and the hope of spotting a wild animal in its habitat but conversely, you also have the necessity to stay alert and take adequate protection measures.

When disembarking and trekking, guides carry a rifle with them. Obviously they only use it for emergencies. To scare the bear away, they also have flare shots.

It is not possible to get close to a bear. So, to spot it or take a picture of it, you need a good pair of binoculars and a good zoom lens.

At the camps we had several pairs of binoculars for bear watching.

When disembarking and trekking we could see the bear footprints on the wet and soft soil: a sign that the king of Svalbard had been there.

Polar bears: beautiful but dangerous

Is there a real chance to be attacked by a bear? The last recorded attack dates back to 1995. On the basis of my personal experience, I think the danger of being attacked by a bear is minimal.

This does not mean that Polar bears do not attack and are not dangerous. Svalbard is their territory and their home. Here they live and raise their family. Polar bears do not fear humans, so it is natural that entering their habitat can be dangerous. A bear in Svalbard is like a lion in Africa: they both can attack.

I noticed how guides organize shore leave, the camps and the excursions. Everything is carefully planned. When disembarking, tourists are divided into small groups. One guide speaks to people whilst other guides monitor the area.

During the excursions there are only a few people and there is always a guide at the front and a guide at the back of the group. At night you can sleep without worries since two people guard the camp from bears from 11 pm to 8 am.

It is not permitted to leave the camp and walk around alone.

The only real danger is that the bear can get close, as happened to us at the first camp. The bear was immediately spotted and the guides got everything ready in case of an attack.

Polar bears and visitors can live together in Svalbard. People must follow the guidelines so that the Polar bear (a protected animal) can live in peace and not be disturbed by the small human figures taking pictures.

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