How Not to Get Eaten by a Polar Bear

Thirty years of traversing bone-chilling landscapes littered with hidden crevasses just isn’t enough for renowned polar explorer Børge Ousland, who is now attempting to cross the world’s 20 largest glaciers on the Ice Legacy expedition. Yet there is still one polar danger in particular that Ousland can never quite get used to.

“I’ve seen 40-50 polar bears in my life and they’re great animals and I love them, but you tend to be a little bit worried when they come up to your tent and want to eat you,” says Ousland.

The bears are known for their ferocious appetite. “They’re curious, but they’re also hungry. They’re always hungry. They will eat you if they get the chance.”

On a previous trip to Russia’s Cape Arkticheskiy, Ousland and his expedition partner were in their tent when “suddenly the zipper broke and a polar bear put his head into the tent. When we saw him and he saw us, I think we were both so scared that he ran away and we just backed off into the back of the tent.”

To avoid another harrowing run-in with a polar bear, Ousland now uses tripwires attached to flares to protect his campsite. Reminiscent of a MacGyver-inspired contraption, Ousland’s homemade system is held together mostly by items you can pick up at a bait and tackle shop—fishing poles, fishing wire, hooks, etc. Ousland encircles his tent with the tripwire so any curious visitor will trip and set off the flares—scaring off the intruder and alerting Ousland to its presence.

Three decades into his career Ousland is seeing more polar bears than ever. “Nowadays you see more polar bears on the glacier because of climate change, because there is less sea ice and [the polar bears] use the glaciers to transport themselves from one side of the island to the other.”

One purpose of the Ice Legacy expedition is to reveal the effects of climate change on the polar regions, so that people will take action to protect the planet from further alteration. Hopefully polar bear populations will be able to recover, and Ousland will continue to encounter and appreciate these lords of the north—from a safe distance, of course.

Follow the entire expedition at icelegacy.com.

Nora Rappaport is a producer and editor on National Geographic's Science and Exploration Media team. She produces content that highlights the awe-inspiring work of National Geographic explorers around the globe. When not working with her colleagues to inspire people to care about the planet, Nora can be found hanging out with any number of dogs.
  • Robert

    I wrote a short article on safety in a polar bear country. Perhaps you will find that interesting: https://lonelyjourneys.com/2015/09/safety-in-polar-bear-country.html

  • Eduard Kanevskiy

    Well-interesting moment when polar bear unzip expedition tent-it’s seems of polite bear of Russian attitude-just knock first then unzip – and don’t forget say-” Good evening-I gad to see you ! ” ( he he he ) Of course he cut a tent – and I don’t know how they fix it. Also the are not a ceremony with a tent-cutting to demolish

  • AJ

    I doubt that the polar bears have begun appearing on the glacier because of climate change. I mean, during the 1960s, polar bear populations were around 5,000. Now, they’re over 25,000. That’s FIVE TIMES higher. Of course the bears will begin to appear in regions that they normally don’t as competition leads them to find new territory. However, the media will try and work the boogieman known as climate change into any conversation about polar bears. Despite the fact that there have been times in history when the Arctic ice cap was completely ice-free in the summer and polar bear populations were left unharmed, there is still so much alarm. Actually, Polar Bears are naturally more active during warmer parts of the year!

  • Susan Carpenter

    Just read your article Robert. It is well written. Thank you .

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