March 19, 2015 / 12:37 PM / 4 years ago

Czech tourist survives polar bear attack on eve of Arctic eclipse

OSLO (Reuters) - A Czech tourist suffered slight injuries when a polar bear attacked him in a tent on an Arctic island off Norway on Thursday, the eve of a total solar eclipse that has drawn thousands of visitors.

The remains of the polar bear which attacked Jakub Moravec from Prague in the Czech Republic whilst he was sleeping in a tent near Fredheim on Spitsbergen island in the Svalbard archipelago is pictured early March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix

Jakub Moravec, camping with five other tourists on a skiing and snowscooter trip, was flown by helicopter to hospital in Longyearbyen, the main settlement on Svalbard, with injuries to his arm, chest and face.

“I am happy, fine,” Moravec, 37, told NRK public television from his hospital bed, saying he awoke to find the bear in the tent and fought to fend it off before a colleague drove the bear away by shooting and injuring it.

The bear, which had got through a fence put up by the tourists around their camp, was later shot dead by rescue crews.

Moravec said he only felt scared afterwards — at the time, his thoughts were only “to save my head”. He hoped to be out of hospital in time to see the eclipse on Friday morning.

The Norwegian Arctic islands of Svalbard, about 1,300 kms (800 miles) from the North Pole, and the Faroe Islands to the south are the only places on land from which viewers will be able to see the moon totally block the sun on Friday.

A partial eclipse will be visible across parts of Africa, Europe and Asia, briefly disrupting production of solar power in Europe as the sun dims.

Svalbard has warned tourists of the risks of bears and of bone-chilling temperatures, expected to be around -18 degrees Celsius (zero Fahrenheit) on Friday, with partly cloudy skies.

The archipelago is expecting about 2,000 visitors for the eclipse, on top of about 2,500 residents. The Faroe Islands expect about 8,000 visitors to swell their population of 50,000.

“It is an ever-present danger,” Ronny Brunvoll, head of the Visit Svalbard organization, said of the risks of polar bear attack. “Security is number one, two and three.”

A bear killed a British teenager on Svalbard in 2011, the most recent fatality. On average, three bears a year are shot in self-defense by people on Svalbard.

Brunvoll told Reuters that the number of overnight visitors would be the highest in Longyearbyen’s history — far above numbers who come for a popular Arctic ski marathon. Hotels have been booked for years and many private homes have rented rooms.

Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Catherine Evans

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