To tame a polar bear

May 12, 2023
This year marks 150 years since the polar explorer Roald Amundsen was born. All of Norway knows he was the first to sail through the Northwest Passage in 1903-1906 and the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. Fewer are aware that he also sailed through the Northeast Passage in 1918-1925.

By: Ann Kristin Balto // Norwegian Polar Institute


Top photo:

Roald Amundsen feeding Marie, the polar bear cub, July 1920. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

One day, during Roald Amundsen’s voyage through the Northeast Passage, Georg Kibisow from the Russian Trading Company came aboard Amundsen’s ship, the Maud. He brought along a polar bear cub that he had caught near Kolyma. He offered the cub to Amundsen, who bought it.

Roald Amundsen named the polar bear cub Marie. He gave her a lot of attention in the hope of taming her so she could pull a sledge. Marie features a lot in Amundsen’s expedition diary and he followed her development closely. Here is a sample of what Amundsen wrote:

It’s not easy to make friends with Marie, but it might work. I carry her now, whenever I want, but I have to make sure I hold onto her head so she can’t bite me. She is constantly fighting with the dogs. This little critter has no fear.

Amundsen gave Marie milk, which she appreciated. He was also able to stroke and groom her. It appears that several of the crew members also developed a good relationship with Marie, until one day Amundsen wrote that he had “chloroformed” the cub after she attacked him:

I chloroformed Marie to death this morning. I had to abandon any hopes of training her. After grooming and feeding her for a month, this morning, when I brought her milk, she came at me in a ferocious rage. In the hands of an experienced trainer she might have become a bit friendlier, but I had to give up.

Marie the polar bear cub was stuffed and is currently on display in Roald Amundsen’s home in Svartskog.




Check out: The Norwegian Polar Institute photo archive contains several pictures from Roald Amundsen’s expeditions:


This article was originally published by the Fram Forum

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