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Polar Bear Shot Dead After Attacking Cruise Ship Guard, Raising Questions of Arctic Tourism
A German cruise operator is under fire after one its employees shot a wild polar bear dead on Norway's Svalbard archipelago after the animal injured a cruise ship guard.
The incident occurred Saturday after the tour ship MS Brennan docked on the island, Norwegian authorities confirmed.
In a statement, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises said the guard, whose job is to scope the area of bears to protect the ship's tourists, went onshore the island before the passengers when we was "unexpectedly attacked" by the animal.
Attempts from other guards to "evict the animal" were unsuccessful, the company said. The bear was ultimately shot and killed "for reasons of self-defense and to protect the life of the attacked person."
The guard suffered head injuries from the attack but they were not life-threatening. He was airlifted out of the area and his condition remains stable.
"We very much regret this incident," the company said. "Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is very aware of its responsibility when traveling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respects all nature and wildlife."
Svalbard, which lies halfway between Norway and the North Pole, is known for its population of polar bears. The cruise operator touts that its expedition onboard the MS Brennan brings tourists to an area where "polar bears rule the wilderness."
The Saturday incident has sparked international outrage, with some saying that tourists should not encroach a polar bear's natural habitat.
Comedian and animal activist Ricky Gervais, tweeted: "'Let's get too close to a polar bear in its natural environment and then kill it if it gets too close.' Morons."
Others noted that such confrontations are bound to happen again as Arctic tourism increases. Citing the Longyearbyen port schedule, the Associated Press reported that 18 cruise ships will dock at the Arctic port in the next week.
Polar bears were declared a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to their sea ice habitat melting from climate change.
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Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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