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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Polar bears raid Arctic cabins
Polar bear breaking into cabin
Bears find new food source in frozen north

Four-legged burglars have been breaking into cabins on the Norwegian Arctic island of Svalbard.

The hungry wanderers have attacked nine properties already in search of food.

The smash-and-grab raids are the work of polar bears, who force open windows and doors or tear straight through walls.

Sometimes they make a second hole for their exit.

Georg Bangjord, of the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, told the BBC that he recently spotted a bear getting out of the water and heading straight for a cabin.

"Of course, we had to try to stop the bear from damaging the property," he says. "Fortunately they are generally shy animals and the sight of us scared it off."

"Bear burglaries are an increasing trend," Bangjord says. "Once an animal discovers cabins are a source of food, it will keep breaking in."

He says the break-ins committed so far are down to a few individuals, but each animal can cause extensive damage. "The situation is made worse by people constantly leaving food in their cabins."

Local newspaper Svalbardposten reports that the polar bears are less than gentle, so most of the cabins they visited have more or less been destroyed.

Major damage

The animals often ruin fixtures and fittings while looking for food.

"My cabin was destroyed. The bear had broken most of its contents," cabin owner Gunnar Nordtoemme told the paper.

Fortunately, all the cabins so far visited by bears have been unoccupied.

A bear has also broken into the "Polarbu" cabin, a listed building dating from 1933. It only got as far as the hallway and did not reach the living quarters.

The cabin's owner, Hans Olav Knutsen, told Svalbardposten that he hoped the bear had not get its paws on tins of battle rations kept in the cabin.

The food, dating back to World War II, is probably still edible and it would be a shame if those treasures ended up in a bear's stomach.

"Approaching a bear is actually illegal on Svalbard," Bangjord says. "But of course, we have to save our cabins."

Photo by kind permission of Georg Bangjord

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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