Polar bear attacks tourist as eclipse junkies head to Arctic

OSLO (AFP) - A Czech tourist recounted Thursday how he fought off a polar bear while camping in Svalbard in Norway's Arctic, illustrating the potential danger for eclipse chasers descending on the region.

Jakub Moravec's body was covered with bloody scratches, but he smiled as he explained to Norwegian public television NRK how he woke up under a polar bear that had entered the tent where he was camping with two friends.

"We were asleep in the tent and then suddenly the polar bear was inside and attacking me in my sleeping bag," he said from his hospital bed.

"We were fighting," recalled Moravec, explaining how the bear was lunging at his head with its powerful jaws.

The bear was eventually chased away and later put down.

Moravec was part of a group of six Czech tourists on a snowmobile tour who had set up their two tents, including polar bear protections, on the shores of a fjord about 30km north-east of Longyearbyen, the main town in Svalbard.

Their destination was Pyramiden, an old Russian mining village that is now a ghost town, where the group was hoping to watch Friday's total solar eclipse.

Svalbard and the Faroe Islands, a Danish autonomous territory in the North Atlantic, are the only places on Earth where the eclipse will be fully visible.

The moon is expected to pass between Earth and the sun on Friday at 1011 GMT (6.11pm Singapore time) in Svalbard, casting a dark shadow for less than three minutes.

It is the only total eclipse this year, and some 1,500 to 2,000 tourists from around the world are expected to descend on Svalbard for the chance to observe it.

Local authorities have warned eclipse chasers of the dangers posed by polar bears.

People leaving Svalbard's inhabited areas are required to be accompanied by an armed local guide or carry a rifle.

There have been five fatal polar bear attacks in Svalbard since 1971. The most recent one occurred in 2011, involving a 17-year-old British student on a school trip.

Some 3,000 polar bears live in the region, outnumbering the 2,500 inhabitants.

Svalbard is a popular destination for nature-lovers seeking out the pristine wildlife, fresh air and wide open spaces.

Moravec said it was finally people in the second tent that came to his rescue, after hearing him and his friends screaming.

They shot the bear, sending it fleeing.

"My mother took the gun and shot three times," Zuzanna Hakova, a friend of Moravec's at his hospital bedside, explained to NRK.

Wounded, the bear was put down shortly after by local authorities.

"Tracks and traces of blood led to the water and the bear was seen swimming in the fjord. He was then killed," the Svalbard governor's office said in a statement.

Moravec was evacuated by helicopter to Longyearbyen with injuries to his face and arm.