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Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

In real life Svalbard’s symbol, the polar bear, is not the cute fuzzy thing you see in the zoo. Even one bear at close quarters is one too many. While it’s most unlikely that you’ll have a Close Encounter of the Furred Kind in the environs of Longyearbyen, the best advice is, if you’re trekking, go with an organised tour. Walk leaders carry a gun and know how to use it. Standard equipment too, especially if you’re camping, are trip wires with flares and distress flares too – to fire at the ground in front of the bear, not to summon help, which could be hours away.

If, despite this, you’re determined to set out without a guide, carry the same equipment; several places in town rent out kits – and make sure you get in some practice shooting before you travel if one end of a gun is much the same as another to you.

Don’t get alarmed; the last bear fatality was in 1995 – but it happened only 2km from Longyearbyen