Fact Check

Cats Are Banned in the Town of Longyearbyen, Norway?

It’s also rumored that residents are "required" to carry a gun for polar bear protection.

Published Feb. 16, 2024

 (Frode Ramone/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Frode Ramone/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Cats are banned in the town of Longyearbyen, Norway.

A town so isolated from the world that residents are prohibited from owning cats is a claim that has been online since at least October 2022. It's been shared across a number of social media platforms, from YouTube and TikTok to the online forum Quora.

One such iteration was posted on Reddit (archived here) in 2023 to the subreddit r/todayilearned, and had received more than 43,000 upvotes as of this publication:

TIL Longyearbyen, Norway is the world's northernmost settlement with a population greater than 1,000. There is a ban on cats, a monthly alcohol purchase limit, and a requirement to carry a rifle while outside for protection from polar bears.
byu/Winger52 intodayilearned

Longyearbyen is one of several small settlements in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located between mainland Norway and the North Pole, considered to be one of the world's northernmost inhabited regions.

Because the settlements "located on top of the world," like Longyearbyen, are on the doorstep of the "high Arctic wilderness, cats have been banned across the Svalbard archipelago," Anja Nordvålen, marketing coordinator for the tourism agency Visit Svalbard, told Snopes in an email. This measure is to "protect the fragile flora and fauna."

Nordvålen referred Snopes to the specific law, written in Norwegian, which she translated as: 

It is forbidden to bring live mammals and birds of all kinds into Svalbard.

Eva Jenssen, a spokesperson for the governor of Svalbard, told Snopes via email that the ban on most pets is also due to the presence of rabies on the archipelago. Jenssen referred our newsroom to regulations published on the governor's webpage, which prohibit the importation of most live mammals and birds

Dogs and pets

You are not permitted to import live mammals and birds to Svalbard, with the exception of cage birds, rabbits and small rodents from Norway and Sweden and cage birds from Finland. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority can grant permission for importing a dog.

Because of its unique and isolated location, Svalbard has been at the heart of other online rumors, including whether alcohol is banned. It's not, but there is a monthly alcohol quota per person. (Longyearbyen is also said to have a pub that is "right around the corner" from the North Pole, for what it's worth.) 

"There are limits on how much beer and hard liquor a person can buy per month. This is a relic from the old days, when Longyearbyen was a coal mining town and the coal company wanted to prevent the coal miners from drinking too much," Jenssen told Snopes. "However, there was never a limit on purchasing wine, and to this day there still isn't a limit on purchasing wine."

It's also been said that residents are "required to carry a gun by law" because of the threat of polar bears: 

On Svalbard, Norway, you are required to carry a gun by law whenever you leave the settlement due to the 300 resident polar bears.
byu/ChreNoir ininterestingasfuck

This, again, is not entirely true. Nordvålen told Snopes that "when venturing out of the settlement, everyone MUST be equipped with suitable means of scaring off polar bears, but it is also highly recommended to carry a gun." 

It's recommended to take a rifle, but not required, Jenssen added. 

As of Feb. 12, 2024, the Svalbard region was home to approximately 2,600 residents, who all experience many other unique living arrangements, according to the Visit Svalbard website:

  • We only have one grocery store.
  • We are used to living next door to reindeer.
  • We still take off our shoes when we enter hotels and restaurants, a tradition that has arisen from the problem with coal dust in the old days.
  • All the mining infrastructure is protected and remains as surreal monuments in and around the settlement.
  • The streets in Longyearbyen have numbers instead of names.
  • Longyearbyen has a university centre with 300 students, all of whom must learn to use firearms.
  • Seeing whales swimming in the fjord from our lounge window is not an uncommon occurrence.

Sources

"About Svalbard." Visit Svalbard, https://en.visitsvalbard.com/visitor-information/about-svalbard. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

Visit Svalbard, https://en.visitsvalbard.com/visitor-information/about-svalbard. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"Alcohol." Governor of Svalbard, https://www.sysselmesteren.no/en/alcohol/. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

Cats Are BANNED on This Arctic Island | Svalbard, Longyearbyen. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9rJk7HZXgw. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"Destinations." Visit Svalbard, https://en.visitsvalbard.com/visitor-information/destinations. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"Dogs and Pets." Governor of Svalbard, https://www.sysselmesteren.no/en/dogs-and-pets/. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

Governor of Svalbard, https://www.sysselmesteren.no/en/dogs-and-pets/. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

Dzinzi, Mellissa. "Planet Earth's Northernmost Town Where It's 'illegal to Die' and Cats Are Banned." Daily Star, 2 Oct. 2022, https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/world-news/earths-northernmost-town-its-illegal-28057431.

"Firearms." Governor of Svalbard, https://www.sysselmesteren.no/en/weapon/. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

Forskrift Om Forbud Mot Innførsel Av Dyr Til Svalbard - Lovdata. https://lovdata.no/dokument/SF/forskrift/1988-08-31-744. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"Population of Svalbard." SSB, https://www.ssb.no/en/befolkning/folketall/statistikk/befolkningen-pa-svalbard. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

TikTok - Make Your Day. https://www.tiktok.com/@sejsejlija/video/7161188639169400069. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"Welcome to Longyearbyen." Visit Svalbard, https://en.visitsvalbard.com/visitor-information/destinations/longyearbyen. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"What Is the Reason for the Cat Ban on the Norwegian Islands of Svalbard?" Quora, https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-reason-for-the-cat-ban-on-the-Norwegian-islands-of-Svalbard. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

"Why Did Norway Ban Cats from Going to Svalbard, but Not IF@F? Should IFAF Be Banned in Norway?" Quora, https://www.quora.com/Why-did-Norway-ban-cats-from-going-to-Svalbard-but-not-IF-F-Should-IFAF-be-banned-in-Norway. Accessed 12 Feb. 2024.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.