A polar bear's epic ice-floe voyage across the Atlantic from Greenland to Iceland has ended in tragedy after Icelandic authorities were forced to shoot the stray animal.
Police sharpshooters killed the bear, who locals had christened Ofeig, on Iceland on Tuesday evening. According to authorities, the bear had run towards a group of journalists "in panic" on the coast of northern Iceland. "We had no choice," a spokesman for authorities said.
According to the Icelandic public broadcaster RUV, a 12-year-old girl spotted the bear in front of her parents' farmhouse near the town of Saudarkrokur on the Skaga fjord and raised the alarm. Experts reported that the bear had wandered into a bird reserve and had been eating large quantities of birds' eggs.
The bear was originally from Greenland but had floated on an ice floe to Iceland, a journey of around 500 kilometers (300 miles). Two weeks ago, another polar bear had made a similar epic voyage to Iceland from Greenland -- and was shot by police on the orders of the authorities. Environmental and animal-rights groups reacted to that killing with heated protests, pointing out that polar bear populations in the Arctic are highly endangered.
The upshot was that this time the authorities were determined that the bear be captured alive and transported to a more suitable habitat. Specialists from Copenhagen Zoo had come to Iceland specially to rescue Ofeig, whose name translates roughly as "he who should not die." They planned to tranquilize the bear and either take it back to its homeland of Greenland or bring it to the zoo in Denmark's capital.
However the plan might not have succeeded even if the unfortunate bear had not gotten too close to the journalists. Danish veterinarian Carsten Grondahl, who was one of the Copenhagen Zoo team who had come to Iceland to capture the bear, told the Danish radio station DR Wednesday that the bear had become very weak due to its age, injuries and its long journey across the Atlantic. Due to its poor state of health, the bear would probably not have survived being tranquilized, he said.
Polar bears are not native to Iceland, and the two recent bear incursions are the first incidents of their kind in 20 years.