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Polar bear injures tourist on Arctic island on eve of eclipse

A polar bear injured a foreign tourist on an Arctic island off Norway on Thursday, the eve of a total solar eclipse that has drawn thousands of visitors to the remote islands.

Reuters| Updated: Mar 19, 2015, 19:25 PM IST

Oslo: A polar bear injured a foreign tourist on an Arctic island off Norway on Thursday, the eve of a total solar eclipse that has drawn thousands of visitors to the remote islands.

The bear was shot dead, and the man, part of a group of six people who were on a snowscooter and skiing tour and staying in tents, was flown by helicopter to hospital in Longyearbyen, the main settlement on Svalbard, a police spokesman said.

The injuries, to the face and an arm, were not life-threatening, he said. The nationality of the injured man was not yet known. Another person was taken to hospital with frost-bite, unrelated to the attack.

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 vistors to swell their population of 50,000.

"It is an ever-present danger," Ronny Brunvoll, head of the Visit Svalbard organisation, 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-defence 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.