© Marie-Chantal Marchand / WWF-Canada

Turning up the heat can defuse polar bear attacks

15 January 2014

Polar bear Norway Wildlife Barents Sea Tourism

An urban tool for self defence could make one of the world’s most remote destinations safer as well - for both polar bears and people, according to WWF.

Svalbard, Norway, is one of the most accessible places in the world for polar bear tourism. But that accessibility can come with a price as encounters between people and bears can turn fatal.

Currently, people venturing into polar bear territory on Svalbard are limited mainly to flares as a deterrent, and firearms for self-defense at close range - as a result, an approaching polar bear that is not frightened off by noise or flares is unlikely to survive the encounter. A recent study found that pepper spray can be a safe and highly effective alternative to lethal force in some circumstances. Expanding the repertoire of deterrence tools to include the non-lethal spray could keep both polar bears and people safer, while conditioning the bears to avoid humans in the future.

This and other recommendations are available in a new WWF report on reducing human / polar bear conflict on Svalbard.