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Meeting Polar Bears in Greenland

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Between Greenland and Naneq (what in Inuit means polar bear) it's a love story.

In the Inuit culture, the polar bear has always been an important symbol, often described as a curious, dangerous and highly respected animal. The polar bear is the most important animal in South East Greenland and the value of a hunter is determined by the number of bears he has killed. But here hunting is not as we can imagine it in Europe, first of all polar bear hunting is regulated, and there is a maximum number of bears that can be killed per year per region (South-East Greenland in 2017 was max. 30 polar bears). Moreover in Greenland people do not hunt for sport or for fun of just hanging a skin or other trophies on their homes’ walls, here they hunt to live and to survive.

Greenland is a beautiful land rich of such landscapes and seascapes that I will never stop looking at them with admiration passion and delight, but at the same time is such a hard country, even frightening and dangerous where no breeding or agriculture is possible, were the climate and nature are governing men and therefore hunting remains an essential means of survival.

Like inuits do with all the animals they hunt, with the polar bear there is no waste. Everything is used and nothing is lost, the skin, the claws the skeleton and of course the precious meat. When someone meets the king of the ice it is a difficult and dangerous one to one meeting where there can only be one winner, the hunter or the bear.

I had the chance to spend some days with a great hunter, Tobias, one of the best hunter of the coast. When I talked with him about the polar bear he smiled. I asked him whether they hunt the bear alone or in a group. He simply answered, "alone or in group", for him there was no difference. Then he told me that one day he had hunted a polar bear all by himself, the animal weighted about 600 kg. I looked at him a little puzzled, no problem believing he killed the bear all by himself, but I did not see how he was able to transport the dead animal to his home. Even if I now that Tobias is a very strong man, I worked with him for a whole day and while I could barely lift a box with all the strength I had (ok, I'm not such a good reference) he could lift one of each hand without problems and hold them as if they were 2 packs of water bottles. I think they were about 10-12 kg each. However, a bear is another matter, so I asked him: "How did you manage to bring it home?" And with a lovely smile and almost surprised by my question he answered me, "I carried it". I thought then that he didn't got my question right, so, I repeated it trying to be more precise "Yes, but a bear it is very heavy, how could you carry it on your own? " He answered: “I cut into pieces.” as if it was obvious. I stopped asking questions.

I also wanted to see a polar bear so badly and I’ve been told, “ you’ll probably not be able to take any photo because most of the times it is too close or too far, let’s hope for you that it’s too far”. Still today I have not yet had the chance (or bad luck) to meet the King of the Ice, even though I would love to see one, when I think about it I'm excited and frightened at the same time, the idea of ​​being in front of this imposing animal without any defence (it is true that people almost always walk with a gun, but how useful it is when you are a 155 cm tall girl and that the only times I’ve shoot with a rifle was on cardboard ducks at a local fair?) exchanging the gaze for a moment remains a dream. Maybe one day I would have this chance, and then I’ll have a great story to tell.

For now I can only show you Tobias and his story with Naneq and its Polar Bear white skin drying in the sun of his home terrace, like the clothes drying on a line under a Greenlandic summer sun.

Visiting Tasiilaq in Greenland
Visiting Tasiilaq in Greenland
Tasiilaq, Greenland

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The author

Lucia Gaggero

Lucia Gaggero

My name is Lucia, I am a photographer from Italy who loves telling and sharing stories, adventure, legends and the great North.

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