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Polar bears

Scare tactics

Wildlife officials in Greenland are looking for more effective ways to keep polar bears away from settled areas

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Until Wednesday, Malik Frederiksen owned nine horses at his property in southern Greenland. After an attack by a polar bear, he now owns eight.

Mr Frederiksen, speaking to local media, explained that after witnessing the attack he shot the bear some 500 metres from his sheep farm near the town of Nanortalik. The same bear, he said, was driven away from his property the previous day after it was seen eating fodder that had been laid out for his horses. Killing it, he explained, was his only option after it returned a second day.

Wildlife officials have deemed Mr Frederiksen shot the bear in order to protect livestock, and because he felt his family could be at risk. The decision means that the bear will not be counted against the regional quota.

SEE RELATED: Polar-bear country

Such rulings have become become increasingly common in Greenland in recent years, an the incident was the second time in two days that polar bear has been shot due to concerns that they were coming too close to settled areas.

In recent years, a number of measures aimed at reducing the number of bears killed in run-ins with humans have been implemented. Until now, most sightnings near settled areas have been recorded in eastern Greenland, where, last year, the town of Ittorqortoormiit, with the help of the WWF, a conservancy, set up patrols aimed at scaring bears off before they could come into contact with humans.

Hunters argue that the increasing number of run-ins is a sign that the polar-bear population in the affected areas is on the rise. Biologists, on the other hand, say more bears coming ashore for food ought to be considered a warning sign that they can no longer support themselves in their natural feeding areas at sea due to receding sea ice.

Regardless of the reason, as Mr Frederiksen’s experience indicates, scaring bears off is often proving an ineffective way to keep them away from humans.

SEE RELATED: Making polar bears dangerous again

One way to make efforts to scare off polar bears more effective, wildlife officials believe, may be allow people to pack more of a punch when they do so.

Currently, scaring polar bears off involves making loud noises, lighting flares or firing warning shots. A plan put forward earlier this month would instead allow the use of rubber bullets and pepper spray.

Neither is permitted under current Greenlandic law, but if trials carried out by the Danish military’s Sirius Patrol, long-range dog-sledge reconnaissance teams in unpopulated north-eastern Greenland, prove a success, the Hunting Ministry says it will consider requesting allowing both to be used.

It would apepar that the time has come to put the iron fist in the rubber glove.