Norway, a nation gratefully known for its lack of international news, is making headlines again.
On Friday, a polar bear mauled a group of young British campers on a trip to a remote Arctic archipelago, killing a 17-year-old boy and injuring four others. The brutal attacks ended when a member of the expedition shot the bear dead. (It was just last month that a Norwegian gunman opened fire on a youth camp and set off a bomb in Oslo, killing more than 90 people, mostly teens and young adults.)
In a statement, the British Schools Exploring Society said that 80 people, most of them between 16 and 23, were part of a group camping on a remote glacier in Norway’s Svalbard region when the animal attacked.
The society, an adventure travel charity, confirmed that two trip leaders, Michael Reid and Andrew Ruck, and two young people, Patrick Flinders and Scott Smith, had been injured and were being flown to Tromsoe in northern Norway for treatment. The organization did not release the identity of the deceased, but local officials said it was a 17-year-old British boy.
The survivors reportedly suffered moderate to severe injuries, including head injuries.
The archipelago — which has a population of around 2,400 people and nearly 3,000 polar bears — attracts well-off and hardy tourists with stunning views of snow-covered mountains, fjords and glaciers.
Visitors are urged to carry high-powered rifles whenever venturing outside Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen and polar bear safety brochure discourages campers from setting up their tents in areas where bears roam.
According to Norwegian researchers, the last time someone was killed by a polar bear at Svalbard was in 1995, when two people were killed in two different incidents. On average, three bears have been killed every year during the period from 1993 to 2004 in encounters with humans, according to Svalbard authorities.
“It is not unusual to camp here, but it is necessary to carry weapons,” she said, adding police are now investigating.
Kjersti Noraas, a Svalbard tourism coordinator, said around 30,000 tourists visit the islands every year and although most choose to go on guided tours, “quite a few come to camp in the wilderness.”
The site of the attack was only 40 kilometers, 25 miles, outside Longyearbyen, which is where most tourists stay during their visit.
Norway attracts millions of international visitors every year, and many people in Huntsville have made the trip as well. Most people, however, visit more traditional tourist areas, such as Oslo, the nation’s capitol. David Peterson of Huntsville made the trip in 2003. “It is the beautiful country ever,” he said, “with the fjords and the mountains. And the people there are so happy to share their culture.”
Of course, Peterson stuck to the maiinstream tourist scene and therefore did not encounter any polar bears or other threatening wildlife. For information on travel to Norway, check out this online brochure.