Fatal polar bear attack on campsite | Polarjournal

UPDATE: The Sysselmanns have stated that the polar bear responsible for the death of Johan Jacobus Kotte has been identified. It is a three-year-old male who had appeared and been chased off days earlier near Longyearbyen. Jon Aars, a specialist at the Norwegian Polar Institute, confirmed the identification.

UPDATE: As we have just learned, the victim is the manager of the campsite, 38-year-old Johan Jacobus Kotte, a Dutchman. He had only taken up the post at short notice at the beginning of July, after it was clear that the lockdown measures in Longyearbyen would be lifted. Kotte had already managed the campsite two years ago. According to the Sysselmanns, the manager was surprised by the polar bear in his tent during the night and fatally injured. He had only taken up the post at short notice at the beginning of July, after it was clear that the lockdown measures in Longyearbyen would be lifted. Kotte had already managed the campsite two years ago. According to the Sysselmanns, the manager was surprised by the polar bear in his tent during the night and fatally injured.

The campsite of Longyearbyen is located 300 metres below the airport. The place is popular with people, as it is very nicely located almost directly on the water and also has a good infrastructure. Never before has the place been visited by a polar bear.

In Longyearbyen on Svalbard, people have learned to live with the fact that they are in polar bear territory. Numerous measures are to ensure that a meeting of humans and bears should not take place or at least there should be no victims. But, as everywhere else, there is no 100% guarantee of success. This sad experience was once again felt early Friday morning, when a polar bear unexpectedly turned up at the local campsite, attacking and fatally injuring a man.

According to an initial report by Sysselmannen, the local administration, a call was received by the police at 03.50 that a polar bear had entered the campsite and injured a man. The alarmed residents of the site had then shot at the bear and injured it and had driven him off towards the airport. There, the animal succumbed to his gunshot wound. In the meantime, the police and a called ambulance were only able to determine the death of the injured man. Police investigating the site found the dead bear in the parking lot, about 300 metres from the campsite. The other six people at the site were not injured, but they were taken to hospital where they were psychologically cared for by specialists. They have since been taken to a hotel in Longyearbyen. Authorities have not yet provided any information on the identity of the dead man, only that he was a foreign citizen. Further investigations are ongoing.

“In the 44 years that Longyearbyen Camping exists, we have never experienced anything like this, and we are ourselves in a state of shock.”

Announcement Longyearbyen Camping

The campsite operator and the Sysselmannen have asked not to visit the place. In an initial reaction, the operator writes on the website how shocked and saddened she is about the incident and the loss of a human life. “In the 44 years that Longyearbyen Camping exists, we have never experienced anything like this, and we are ourselves in a state of shock. We extend our sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased.”

Polar bears are very curious, but also actually cautious animals. In search of food in the summer, they also approach more often human dwellings or places, also on Svalbard. Longyearbyen had just had several adults and a young bear close to the site.

According to the Sysselmannen, the bear will now undergo an autopsy to determine the animal’s condition. It is also not clear where the polar bear came from at the campsite. In the past few days, several polar bears had been spotted in Adventdalen and on the Longyearbyen opposite side near Hiorthhamm. A mother was stunned with her cub and transported to the north of the Isfjorden. Earlier this year, individual polar bears were spotted near Longyearbyen. However, the curious animals were driven from the settlement. Another, slightly more intrusive bear had appeared several times a few weeks ago at isfjord Radio station and at the Trapperstation Farmhamna and had only very laboriously been expelled. In general, polar bears are very curious, but also careful not to be injured. But obviously this doesn’t apply to all bears.

The village of Longyearbyen is a safety zone that is potentially free of polar bears and therefore safe for movement without armament. The campsite and the airport are not included, but are considered relatively safe due to location and traffic. Photo: Visit_Svalbard

The Longyearbyen campsite has been in operation since 1976 and has had no problems with polar bears in its entire history. Thanks to its location, about 300 from the airport, close to the main road and on open terrain, it has been considered to be actually polar bear safe. It is very popular with people from all over the world as it offers a cost-effective but high-quality accommodation. Here you can also observe birds and sometimes belugas from the beach. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first hotel in Longyearbyen was built on the same site.

It is true that there are repeated incidents on Svalbard involving humans and polar bears. But most of the time, the bears can be driven away before worse matters happen. Unfortunately, however, in the remaining cases, the bears are usually the ones with the worse end. Deaths in humans are rare.

Last winter, a polar bear was shot dead in Longyearbyen when it was spotted on the road in the middle of the village and could not be chased off. The summer before, a polar bear had surprised a group of campers in the east of Isfjorden and devastated the camp without injuring anyone. In the summer of 2018, a polar bear attacked and injured a guide from Hapag Lloyd on the island of Phippsøya when he came ashore despite warnings from other ships. Polar bear guards shot the animal. In the spring of 2015, a polar bear had entered a poorly secured camp of tourists and had injured a man before being shot by another tourist. The last fatality of a person on Svalbard from a polar bear dates back to 2011, when a school group was surprised by a polar bear during a camping trip that fatally injured a boy before he was shot itself.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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