Meet the women protecting travellers from polar bears in Svalbard

Meet the women protecting travellers from polar bears in Svalbard

Although shepherding hikers across Esmarkbreen glacier past summer time, Kaisa Rebane caught a glimpse of motion out of the corner of her eye. At a nearer glimpse, she observed a massive, lumbering polar bear – much less than 500 ft away, by her estimation – making its way toward the team.

As she’s been qualified to do, Rebane pulled out her flare gun and began firing toward the shaggy marine mammal, all the when instructing her guests to diligently stroll backward. The bear at very first appeared undeterred by the loud bangs and flashes. But after a several far more pictures, it bit by bit turned all-around, sniffed the air, and wandered off. If the bear hadn’t, Rebane could have experienced to use her rifle.

A view from Hurtigruten’s MS Bard ship

Courtesy Hurtigruten

In Svalbard, polar bears outnumber people.

Kevin Schafer/Getty

Rebane, 35, has been foremost travellers across the Arctic tundra considering that 2019. Immediately after what she describes as an unsatisfying vocation as a actual physical therapist in her home place of Estonia, she moved to Svalbard – the distant, mountainous, sparsely populated Norwegian-governed archipelago not far from the North Pole – for a full improve of rate. At 78 degrees north latitude, all materials must be delivered or flown in (there is only a single grocery shop), and the location plunges into 24-hour darkness throughout the wintertime, then endures 24 hrs of sunlight in the summer season. Based mostly in Longyearbyen, the northernmost city in the world, Rebane is introducing website visitors to this harsh but exceedingly stunning atmosphere, wherever avalanches tumble down the sides of towering mountains and gaping crevasses threaten to swallow hikers and skiers total.

But the most one of a kind and unpredictable risk locals facial area are polar bears. There are 3,000 bears in the location versus 2,500 inhabitants. Everyone venturing outside the house Longyearbyen’s boundaries need to have polar bear safety. Though going to for the to start with time this autumn with Hurtigruten, I noticed indicators all about town warning travellers about the strong animals. Svalbard authorities go to fantastic lengths to stop human-polar bear interactions and, as this sort of, assaults are really unusual. But when they do transpire, they typically result in injuries or loss of life, for possibly the individual, the bear, or both of those. In August, for case in point, Svalbard manufactured global headlines after authorities euthanised a bear that had wounded a tourist at a campsite.

That’s why travellers who enterprise to this otherworldly location e book expeditions led by knowledgeable guides. And even though the polar regions – Svalbard bundled – have extended been the area of adventurous men, women of all ages like Rebane have now staked their claim, far too, safeguarding travellers from polar bears and other hazards when hiking, backpacking, pet dog-sledding, snowmobiling, tenting, kayaking, snowboarding, and cycling.

“It’s always scary to satisfy a bear,” states Rebane, who performs for tour operator Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions. “You by no means know how the condition will close. You never know how a polar bear will behave. Each polar bear is various and they can modify their behaviour inside of half a second.”

Vilde Erikstad moved from mainland Norway to get the job done as a guideline with Svalbard Husky. 

Vilde Erikstad