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Polar Bear
Bear behaviour

Avoiding bear problems
Bear around camp
Bear away from camp
Playing dead
Shooting a bear
A wounded bear
Hunting regulations
Camp maintenance
Camp location
Camp layout
Food preparation
Food storage

Waste disposal
Detection systems
Trip-wire fence
Chili-con-carne alarm
Bear deterrents
Types of deterrents

Encountering walruses
Hunting regulations

Encountering muskoxen
Types of deterrents
Hunting regulations

Arctic wolf
Encountering wolves
Hunting regulations

Arctic fox
Encountering foxes
Hunting regulations

Choosing firearms
Firearm regulations

Cited literature
Technical specifications
Selected wildlife links


Encounters with Wildlife in Greenland, part 2
Animal - Human Interactions   

by Henning Thing, DPC

The Atlantic walrus is indigenous to northeastern and northwestern Greenland and associated to drift ice habitats. Walruses occur in groups, feed almost exclusively on bottom-dwelling invertebrates (various species of bivalves), and therefore usually dive to depths less than 100 m. Both sexes have tusks; adult males have very large ones, adult females medium sized ones, and subadults small ones.

Their eyesight is poor, but hearing and smelling are excellent. As any marine mammal they are of course eminent swimmers. The females give birth in May-June. Mating is between February and April.

Due to hunting and an increased disturbance level haul-out places for walruses on land are now exceedingly rare in Greenland. The animals haul-out on drifting ice floes to sleep and rest, except in the National Park in North and East Greenland where a few resting places on land are still in use.

If you happen to observe walruses hauled out on land you may approach them very carefully downwind until 40-50 m away. Stop here and take your pictures from this distance. Do not walk right up to the animals just to have your picture taken.

When navigating walrus habitats in a zodiac, a dinghy, a kayak, or any other small vessel, realize that walruses may approach you to check out the boat; in extreme cases a walrus may put its head with tusks over the side of the boat and launch an attack on you.

Therefore, if you have spotted one or several walruses near by and you are on- board a small vessel, be prudent and get away as soon as possible. Their behaviour sometimes seem malevolent and they may dive and surface right under your boat trying to rock or capsize it. Show respect for these huge animals and avoid close contact both on land and in the water.

Do not purposely disturb resting, sleeping, feeding, or swimming walruses. Females with calves as well as adult males may be formidable opponents if they feel threatened and decide to defend themselves or their kin.

Should you have to shoot a walrus in self-defence you must do so directly in the head, i.e. through the skull in the back of the head. Avoid shooting at the very thick part of the skull around the nose. The best killing effect will be seen using full-coated ammunition of caliber .30-06.

A walrus can not be legal game for any visitor to Greenland. Harvesting of walruses is an exclusive privilege for permanent residents holding valid permits as part-time or full-time subsistence hunters. There is a general open season in West Greenland from 1 January through May. In north and east Greenland the walrus may be hunted by qualified residents all year round.

If you should be forced to shoot and kill a walrus in self-defense you must report this very unusual incident to the authorities immediately. The reporting of the alleged self-defense killing will be evaluated by the police who might decide to take legal action against you. No part of an illegally killed walrus can be claimed or possessed by the "hunter". The scull with tusks shall be salvaged and handed over to the authorities as soon as possible.

Muskoxen are plant eating ruminants and occur naturally in Northeast Greenland southwards to Scoresby Sound (c.70 N). A large introduced population occupies the inland ranges around Kangerlussuaq Airport in West Greenland.

Furthermore, there are small introduced populations in the Thule region (North Greenland), on the Nunavik (Svartenhuk) peninsula as well as on the Naternaq lowlands (West Greenland), and around Ivittuut in South Greenland.

Muskoxen live in groups and may leave the false impression of being rather docile and slow animals. In fact they are animals superbly adapted to an energy conserving life in the Arctic, and if need be they are very agile and fast. Their eyesight, hearing, and smelling are excellent.

Muskox cows give birth to their single calf in the beginning of May. The rutting season is in August-September. Both sexes have horns; adult males can be distinguished from adult females by their larger body size, thicker shape, and much broader base of the horns. Muskoxen have very thick and insulating coats, especially during winter months. Therefore, they easily over-heat if forced to run (if disturbed by humans) and they may subsequently die because of hyperthermia.

Muskoxen may sometimes appear to be rather docile and slow animals. If disturbed or upon encountering unusual elements in their surroundings, muskoxen prefer to take their stand in a close defense formation with adults on the flanks and the young ones in the middle; in this way they will wait and defend themselves, rather than run away if alarmed. This behaviour has evolved as an efficient way of dealing with attacks from their traditional predator, the Arctic wolf, but may be detrimental to them when confronting people with firearms.

Subadults and females with calves generally try to stay clear of people, but during the rutting season adult males may show "unpredictable" behaviours towards humans in their surroundings. As a natural part of the display and threatening behaviour an adult muskox male may approach anybody perceived as a potential opponent and initiate an array of behaviours, such as pit digging, rubbing orscent marking, parallel walk, head-down mock attack, or eventually a true head-on attack.

If you accidentally come across one or several muskoxen at close range, the most prudent thing is to slowly back out of the encounter and then watch the animals or take pictures from a safe distance.

It is tempting for many people to approach muskoxen - single individuals or a group in defense formation - to get close-up photos of these strange-looking animals; however, do not approach muskoxen closer than 25 m, or you are likely to experience the muskox as a very fast and potentially dangerous animal when it charges.

Never corner a muskox; always leave an easy escape route open for the animals if you try to approach them in the field. Because it is hard to predict the behaviour of lone bulls during the August-September rutting season, it is therefore strongly advised to stay clear of any lone bull you may spot in this period.

In areas with a high density of muskoxen you will often be able to identify distinct muskox trails in the landscape. These paths are used by the animals for moving between favoured feeding areas, - and camping in close vicinity to such trails may increase the likelihood of unexpected close encounters with musk- oxen, and therefore also situations potentially hazardous for both you and the animals.

Never disturb, distress, or harass muskoxen intentionally whether you are on foot, in a vehicle, on a snow mobile, or in an aircraft.

When you want a close-by or approaching muskox to leave, you need to deter it with one or several deterrents available to you. Depending on the animal's sex, age, familiarity with people, physical condition, reproductive status, and the sea- son of the year, you may see various levels of reaction to your deterring efforts.

The following deterrents have proved efficient in most cases:

* Shouting
It is important to make it quite clear to an approaching or already close muskox which has not yet got your scent or otherwise identified the situation that you are not one of its kin but actually a human. This message is given by shouting words (not screaming or howling) and waving your arms, coat, backpack etc. You may increase the impact of your behaviour by climbing a large rock; this will definitely make you look bigger and it will bring you in a safer position.

* Pencil flare gun
This small and portable device has a deterring effect in most cases. However, it is important to know that the usual flares with white, green, or red light only rarely scare away a muskox. The best effect is reached by using the type of flare which detonates at a distance of 30-40 m. Do not aim right at the muskox, you may easily over-shoot. Instead, send the detonating flare up at a 45 angle so that it detonates in the air above the animal. The reaction is most often instantaneous, - the muskox flees.

You should be aware that warning shots by shotgun or rifle can not be recommended to deter muskoxen because it is usually without the desired reaction to fire warning shots above or in the ground in front of the animal. A bull in the rutting season might even get quite annoyed if you are shooting in the ground in front of it. Besides, bullets may recochet from hard ground or rocks and the chance of injuring or killing the muskox is significant.

Visitors to Greenland can not legally kill muskoxen, unless they purchase a muskox trophy hunting licence. Hunting of muskoxen is reserved for the permanent resident holding a valid permit as a full-time subsistence hunter. The Greenland Ministry of Industry  announces annual muskox harvest quotas for the areas in East and West Greenland where muskox hunting is permitted. Licenses are allotted to interested, qualifying hunters.

In Maniitsoq and Sisimiut municipalities (West Greenland) there is an open season from 1 August until 25 September. In Ittoqqortoormiit municipality (East Greenland) muskox hunting is legal only in the periods 20 August - 20 September and 20 November - 20 December.

If you shoot at or kill a muskox in an alleged self-defense action, you must report the incident immediately to the police and / or the Ministry of Health and Environment. Based on the report and other information that can be obtained, the police will decide whether to take legal action against you for illegal hunting.

No parts of a muskox killed in self-defense may be claimed or possessed by the "hunter" or other private citizens. Upon a self-defense killing it is your responsi- bility to see that the animal is salvaged. Skin the animal and bring out the meat, the scull, and the coat as soon as possible. Deliver the above items to the nearest police station.


Arctic wolves are almost exclusively confined to the National Park in North and East Greenland. The wolves are few and widely scattered over this vast territory and live alone, in pairs, or rarely in packs. Only breeding wolves with cubs in a den are sedentary within a small home range, all others are highly mobile and roam over very large areas to secure their food.

The Arctic wolf is a carnivore at the top of the ecological food chain and preys on eggs, birds, lemmings, Arctic hares, and large mammals as the muskox. The wolf has acute senses of seeing, hearing, and smelling.

The Arctic wolf is harmless to humans, but you should be aware that it is part of the natural behavioural pattern to approach any new, strange object, incl. people, to check them out. During the approach the animal may show a subordinate, submissive behaviour with ears back, tail low, and often a somewhat arched back. This behaviour is a usual inquisitory behaviour characteristic of the Arctic wolf and should not be misinterpreted as aggressive.

If you are fortunate enough to spot a wolf in the Greenland wilderness you will most frequently experience this wary and intelligent animal at a distance. Should you observe that you have come across breeding wolves leading small cubs or with cubs in a den do ùnotú disturb or distress the animals. It is, of course, also prohibited to chase or in other ways harass wolves with any vehicle or aircraft.

Although you might be tempted to put out food for wolves you have spotted in order to get close-up pictures of the animals, you must remember that feeding wildlife is not permitted and must be avoided by all available means. After your stay in the wilderness you are urged to report any sighting of Arctic wolves, localities, and dates of observation to the Danish Polar Center.

No deterrent should be necessary for you when encountering an Arctic wolf. Unless the wolf is attracted by food or edible waste it will be easy to scare away - if you should want to by shouting loudly and waving your arms. Wolves may sometimes seek the company of the Greenland sled dogs at remote weather stations and the like. Such a visit seems to be of mutual interest and after some time the visiting wolf will leave on its own without your interference.

Arctic wolves are protected year round in all of Greenland. In the unfortunate event that you have killed a wolf in an alleged self-defense action, you must report this immediately to the nearest legal authority. It also remains your responsibility to salvage the dead wolf and bring it in whole (or the salvaged, gutted body) to the nearest permanent habitation as soon as possible. Your report on the shooting will subsequently be evaluated by the police who may decide to take legal action against you for illegal hunting.


The Greenland foxes belong to one species but occur in two colour phases: one in an entirely white winter coat (white fox) and one in a greyish blue winter and summer coat (blue fox). Foxes are often abundant and occur in all parts of Greenland, although they are scarce on the southeast coast.

The Arctic fox is a rather small animal. The adults weigh up to 4 - 4.5 kg; for comparison adult Arctic hares weigh up to 5 kg. In May foxes have their pups in a dug out den in a dry sandy location and the litter may be as big as 6-7.

Foxes will eat or try to eat anything. Their extraordinary sense of smelling will lead them to any food source. Foxes simply can not resist checking out any new smell. They are experts at finding cached or buried food or garbage, and they will chew on anything chewable. Most Arctic foxes will show very little fear of people and will easily adapt to being around camp and other human activities.

You must resist the temptation to feed foxes around your camp. Wildlife should not live on hand-outs. Arctic foxes are harmless to people and will present a hazard only when they have contracted rabies.

If you encounter a rabid fox showing strange and aggressive behaviour towards any object, stay clear of the animal or, if you have to, kill it. The rabies virus may be transferred to you via the saliva of the fox. Therefore, never let a fox lick your hands or bite you, nor should you touch the head or skull of a dead fox.

All permanent residents in Greenland may hunt Arctic foxes. Visitors to the country must purchase a tourist sport hunting licence in order to legally hunt foxes. A licence can be purchased at any police station in Greenland. There is a general open season from 16 September until 14 May. Foxes are protected from hunting in the National Park in North and East Greenland.

If you have had to kill a fox suspected of having rabies you must immediately report the incident to the nearest police station. If possible, salvage the head of the killed fox but be careful when handling it so that you do not get the animal's saliva on your hands.

You may choose to bring firearms along on your trip to the Greenland wilderness but remember that carrying firearms as a protective measure towards hazardous encounters with large mammals should primarily be considered a psychological support for yourself.

Shooting and killing an animal in self-defense should always be the very last means of ending an encounter between people and wildlife.

The choice of a firearm for personal protection should be based on:

your experience and confidence with firearms,
personal preference for a particular type of firearm,
weather conditions in which the gun will be used, and
the versatility required (i.e. whether the firearm will be used for purposes other than e.g. polar bear protection).

You should be aware that it is illegal to take shotguns and .22 caliber rifles into the National Park. Rifles of larger calibers may be imported to or possessed within the National Park only with written, individual permission from the Chief Constable in Greenland.

* Shotgun
A short-barrelled, 12-gauge pump action shotgun provides reliable protection and is the most suitable gun for people with little shooting experience. It has good killing ability on polar bears when used with a combination of rifled slugs and large buckshot. A shotgun with an improved cylinder choke is recommend- ed because it is effective at close range and can also be used for firing deterrents. Cracker shells may jam in a shotgun with a tighter (modified or full) choke.

* Rifle
A rifle of caliber .30-06, .308, or comparable power with open or aperture sight (no scope sight!) is suitable protection for people who are confident with rifles. Inexperienced shooters may find it difficult to use in stressful situations
because a rifle requires more accuracy in shooting than a shotgun. Soft point bullets of 200 grains or heavier are recommended.

* Handgun
The use of handguns for personal protection in Greenland is very restricted because the present firearm legislation generally does not allow possession or use of handguns. Should you plan to bring a handgun to Greenland you must apply to the Chief Constable in Greenland for a specific and personal exemption to the general ban on handguns. A handgun permit will most often be difficult to obtain.

It is illegal to bring into Greenland any handgun for which you have not obtained a written, special, and individual permit from the Chief Constable prior to your arrival in Greenland. Although a handgun is convenient and easy to carry, considerable confidence and expertise are necessary to use it effectively.

Handguns are not recommended except under special circumstances where a larger firearm cannot be carried. Only revolvers of caliber .44 Magnum are capable of effectively stopping and killing a charging polar bear, muskox, or walrus, - but only in the hands of a person trained and experienced with handguns. A double-action revolver is preferable to a single-action type. Be aware that the revolving cylinder of the .44 Magnum may freeze up in very cold weather; this will render the weapon useless. Take the cylinder off and keep it inside a warm pocket when climatic conditions are extreme.

If you will be taking firearms into Greenland or possess any localy purchased firearm in Greenland, you need to read the legislation concerning firearms in Greenland. Please note that there are special restrictions for possession of firearms in the National Park in North and East Greenland.

If you are living outside Denmark and want to take your firearm through Denmark in transit on your way to Greenland you may do so without a special permit. Upon your arrival in Denmark you have to produce to the authority at the border station your firearm possession licence issued by your country's legal authority or a written statement from the same authority that such a licence is not required to legally possess firearms in your home country.

If you are a Danish citizen and plan to stay in Greenland in excess of 3 months you can bring your firearms (except handguns), and you can bring those firearms back into Denmark as long as you have filled out a special form (Firearm Export Form #P375) at your local Danish police station prior to your departure for Greenland.

In order to legally bring any firearm into the National Park in North and East Greenland, you must - prior to your departure for a destination within the National Park - obtain a specified, written permit from the Chief Constable of Greenland (address: Politimesteren i Grønland, P.O.Box 1006, DK-3900 Nuuk, Greenland. Phone +299 32 1448. Fax +299 32 4194).

Shotguns and rifles of various types and calibers and ordinary ammunition can be purchased in shops (e.g. "KNI" and/or "BRUGSEN") in the towns and hamlets of Greenland.