A Norwegian man in his fifties has been sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment by North Troms District Court for scaring two mating polar bears on Svalbard Island in April this year, national broadcaster NRK reported.
The man was found to have passed the polar bears at a distance of about 50 meters at a speed of at least 50 kilometers per hour. The bears were scared and disrupted by his sudden appearance and ran away from the car, according to the judgment.
In court, the man said he was about to pick up two people, who earlier reported in a radio message they had got wet feet, which was dangerous given the outside temperature of minus 20 degrees. While approaching them in his truck, he saw mating polar bears some 50 meters away from the car. By his own admission, the man chose to speed up to avoid disturbing the bears. The man admitted his guilt and said that the penalty didn't come as a surprise for him, his lawyer Thomas Hansen stated.
In addition to disturbing the polar bears, the man was charged with several instances of driving without a valid driver's license, as well as violating the traffic regulations on Svalbard, where cars are banned from driving over snow-covered soil and frozen lakes.
"Driving near polar bears per se is punishable with fines, but the reason for the man's unconditional imprisonment is that he already has a conditional sentence from before," Hansen explained to NRK.
According to polar bear researcher Jon Aars of the Norwegian Polar Institute, a bear's reaction to the sound of the motor may vary dramatically. While some don't respond at all, others react at a kilometer's distance and perhaps even more. When chased over a longer period of time, a bear can overheat and die, Aars noted, citing the importance of having bear-protecting laws in place.
The Svalbard Archipelago is home to 3,000 of the massive carnivores, who outnumber its human population.