6 Aug 2011

British teenager mauled to death by polar bear

11:00 am on 6 August 2011

A polar bear has mauled to death a British teenager and seriously injured four other tourists in the Norwegian Arctic.

The bear attacked a campsite set up by 14 people on a five-week expedition to the Svalbard archipelago organised by the British Schools Exploring Society.

Seventeen-year-old Horatio Chapple was mauled to death; four others - aged 16, 17, 27 and 29 - had to be flown to hospital with head injuries.

According to local media, they were attacked while still in their tents. The bear was shot dead by a member of the group.

The attack happened near the Von Post glacier in the Tempel fiord, about 40 kilometres from the archipelago's capital, Longyearbyen.

Jon Aarsh of the Norwegian Polar Institute says it's a place where polar bears often get stranded, making them become more dangerous.

"It's very little sea ice there," Mr Aarsh says, "and bears in that area will have been without food quite a while now or with low access to food."

First fatal attack since 1995

The Barents Sea area is home to about 3000 polar bears, which is slightly more than the number of people living on Svalbard.

Attacks are not uncommon, and it is illegal to leave a human settlement without carrying a gun. Locals however try to scare the animals away and only shoot them as a last resort.

According to local media, this is the first fatal polar bear attack on Svalbard since 1995.

The British Schools Exploring Society was founded in 1932 to "provide young people with an intense and lasting experience of self-discovery in some of the world's last true wilderness environments around today".