“Iceland only country in world systematically killing polar bears”

Photo: Kennan Ward

Former Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine and Icelandic doctor Birgir Guðjónsson has published an opinion piece in today’s Fréttablaðið newspaper criticising the local practice of killing polar bears who find their way to the country.

Even the US and the USSR at the height of the Cold War could agree that polar bears need to be protected, remarks Guðjónsson, laying the blame for the situation in Iceland at the door of the Environment Agency of Iceland.

MORE: Polar bear shot and killed in North Iceland

Guðjónsson has been speaking out against the killing of polar bears in Iceland since his return to his native country after a period of study in America in 1974.

One of the bears killed in 2008.

One of the bears killed in 2008. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Skapti

In May of that year, he published an article in Iceland’s Morgunblaðið newspaper calling for Icelanders to avoid unnecessary killing and instead capture the lost animals and return them to their natural habitat or home them in zoos.

MORE: See Iceland Monitor’s Arctic 2015 series

“42 years, ten articles and ten dead polar bears later, [we still have] officials recommending killing and ‘scientists’ welcoming and cutting up every new carcass only to announce proudly that it is just the same as the one before,” Guðjónsson laments.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) currently puts the global population of polar bears at 22-31,000 and places them in the ‘Vulnerable’ extinction risk category. Guðjónsson first became interested in polar bears when he spent a summer working as a doctor in Greenland back in 1962.

This bear was killed in North Iceland two months ago.

This bear was killed in North Iceland two months ago. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Björn Jóhann

He denies the following four arguments allegedly put forward by the Environment Agency of Iceland for not attempting to save the lives of polar bears reaching Iceland:

a) Polar bears are not endangered.
b) Polar bears are man-eating savage beasts.
c) Experts have been consulted on the matter.
d) Saving them is too expensive.

MORE: Killing polar bears in Iceland “only logical thing to do”

A polar bear killed in Iceland in 2010.

A polar bear killed in Iceland in 2010. Photo: Líney

Polar bears are endangered, Guðjónsson responds, admitting that polar bears have eaten some Icelanders – about 500 years ago. The best and most knowledgeable experts have not been consulted, he suggests, pointing out Iceland liberally uses planes, helicopters and ships to transport other animals.

MORE: “Iceland – a breathtaking country, tarnished by whaling”

“The killing of this latest individual animal will not of course finish off the whole population, nor further impair international opinion on Icelanders’ attitudes to animals,” Guðjónsson concludes.

“But how long does Iceland intend to remain the only country in the world which systematically kills polar bears?”

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