A man has been killed in his tent after a polar bear came scavenging near the town of Longyearbyen, reported local officials.
The man was identified as the camp’s manager, 38-year-old Johan Jacobus Kootte, from the Netherlands.
Shortly before dawn on Friday the polar bear attacked while Mr Kootte was asleep in his tent. The animal was shot at and scared away by other campers, but they could not save the manager. Mr Kootte was pronounced dead on arrival at the nearby hospital.
The bear was later found dead near the local airstrip.
Local newspaper The Svalbard Posten said there were six other campers on site at the time. The camp’s owner Michelle van Dijk told Dutch broadcaster NOS that Mr Kootte had been in his second season as manager and was aware of the danger posed by bears.
“He had done the right training and knew how everything worked there,” she said, but this had not prevented the freak attack.
Ms van Dijk had known Mr Kootte for 15 years, and broke the news to his family.
“I told his mother that I do not know what it is like to lose a child, but I know what it is like to lose a friend,” she said.
The installation of an electric fence to fend off bears had been postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Posten, but had been put up in July. It is not clear how the bear got past the fence and broke into the site on Friday.
Hungry bears have become increasingly common in the area, as the polar hunting grounds continue to shrink due to melting ice sheets.
The campsite had been warned that there were signs of polar bears in the area on Thursday. The Norwegian Polar Institute said that the bear involved in the attack had earlier broken into cabins on the outskirts of Longyearbyen.
The last time there was a lethal polar bear attack on Svalbard was 2011, when a British schoolboy was attacked and killed in his tent at the nearby Von Post glacier.
The islands of Svalbard are home to 1000 bears and 3000 people. However seasonal tourist numbers have been increasing, which experts warn may only result in more bear encounters.
This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished with permission