Eight bears come together on a walk in Chico Basin. The other cubs are
a year older than ours.
Reno is filling in a big hole the cubs had dug under the fence. We drove
boards into the ground, filled both behind and in front of them. Buck,
Jeana, Sheena and Wilder watch while Sky, on the right is thinking what
she will do next.
Sky has an idea.
Reno threatens her if she is not good.
Reno and Sky come to an understanding and shake on the deal. Whatever
the deal was. Sky soon forgot.
(Click on any Image to see a higher resolution version)
Hi from Kambalnoye Lake,
The five cubs names are Jeana (Female) and Sheena (Female), who
I got from the zoo, Wilder (Male) and Sky (Female) who came from
a fishing village on the west coast, and Buck (Male) who we found
at a hot spring resort in Paratoonka, near Petropavlovsk. Buck
was separated from his brother Wilder and sister Sky until we
got them together again. Jeana and Sheena have an unfortunate
brother too, who is the only other cub I know that I could not
liberate this spring. He will live his life on a big chain, training,
or rather testing dog's aggressiveness towards bears. It is a
local sport for people here to see whose dog can show the most
bravery with a tethered bear.
A lot goes on everyday as we help these five orphans towards being
able to look after themselves in the real world. These cubs are
a handful because every day they test our patients figuring out
another way to be troublesome. They seem to understand the perils,
but just get a kick out of testing the want-a-be parents. They
are all individual characters. They separate occasionally into
their own families, although all five play and sleep together
as a unit. Jeana and Sheena are very aggressive and sometimes
cranky with the other cubs and with each other over food and just
in general, but they are the most gentle of the cubs with us.
The three females are very self assured while Buck and Wilder
follow. Buck and I are the slowest. I can almost catch him and
perhaps I could if I hadn't shared my worm medicine and vitamins
with him. So far though, it is questionable whether he has achieved
any more new-found vitality from them than I have. The difference
between us though is that he soon has to speed up in order to
survive. When he gets old and treacherous like me he can go as
slow as he wants.
Sky is the biggest and she is the mischievious ringleader. She
likes to squeeze under the electric fence that is the perimeter
of their large pen and then lately, because it has been hot, take
the others on an unsupervised swim in the lake. She also figured
out how to dig all the way from inside their fence into the pit
under the toilet. That was a first. No bear before has ever dug
into our toilet, although many would have liked to. Sky is always
figuring out how to keep from being bored and the others watch
what she might have in mind next and then help her. Reno and I
try to be a step ahead, but lately we have continually been a
step behind. We had to put a board around the whole pen, under
the bottom wire at ground level, which was a lot of work due to
Maureen and I never had very many male bears hanging out here
at the lake. It was mostly a female domain for those years. This
year there are three males that fish the shore near the cabin
(20 more other bears around the lake). This makes for challenges
keeping the males from getting the cubs. Two of them have shown
interest in eating them, plus one other male who was passing through.
These transient bears are beyond counting.
Reno and I, and before Reno, Volodia and I had some real interesting
work to keep them safe from big males that would like them for
supper. The cub pen is built straddling a bear trail that goes
through the yard. Normally this corridor is open for bears to
pass through if they want, but the opening was the only place
handy to have the cub pen which is about 250 meters in circumference.
One male has been here for three weeks, but the first time we
saw him he came along the trail towards the pen from the east.
He could see the cubs, but could not smell them or us, so he disappeared
and went way around to the west end and came in where he could
smell better. He stood up several times, looking very menacing
with saliva hanging down from the corner of his mouth, and then
he would get down and advance a few steps. He got real close to
the cubs because they were eating their sunflower seeds and probably
thought it was one of us coming along the trail. Finally they
saw him and bolted. I wanted to let him touch the fence (he did
later), but when he made his move in the direction of the cubs,
I leapt off the porch to jump between them, bellowing bloody murder.
That turned him into the pines and I let off a shot of pepper
spray, which was quickly dispersed by the strong wind, but he
must have got some because he left. This is the first time in
twenty years that I have used pepper spray as a defense, but in
this case the bear was not threatening me. He was looking past
me at my charges who were scrambling into their cub house as fast
as they could.
That evening the wind had switch directions and Reno and I watched
another male approach the cub's pen from the east side again.
This time we let the electric fence do its job, which it did very
nicely, even though it is only a bit more than knee-high. (We
have discovered that you do not need a high fence because bears
always explore strange things with their nose). Reno videoed the
During our long walks, they crowd around our feet very tightly
when a male bear shows up. It is difficult not to trip up with
five of them doing this. Often they are snarling at each other
in their nervousness. One bear who only saw the cubs ahead of
us, came running after them until he smelled us, then turned and
Twice we have come upon a female with cubs and our cubs have run
ahead to try to play with the others. It seems all this is done
with complete trust that the female will not hurt them. It was
really something, eight bears and two humans all together. Marvelous
how all of them, including the female, understand about these
things. This female had watched us like Brandy previously had,
and decided that no matter how strange the situation looked, anyone
with five cubs must be OK.
There was a big early run of salmon this year and there are lots
of char too. The cubs are getting plenty of fish and growing like
weeds. Unlike Chico, Biscuit and Rosie at this age, these cubs,
impressed by all our ability to deal with male bears, trust us
through thick and thin. Lately they will head for the lakeshore
to look for dead, washed up, spawned out salmon. The shore area
is very time consuming for us and troublesome and I would just
as soon keep away from the lake because of the danger to them.
However, they know we will feel obligated to follow and protect
them so they just go there with me grumbling behind.
After they eat two or three salmon they usually go to sleep for
an hour on a rise above the lake. When they wake, they look for
a snowdrift on which to play on for another hour or so, sliding,
wrestling and digging. While this goes on I am waiting patiently
until they are done and then try to get them to follow me home.
Sometimes they do, but more often they have played so hard that
they are again hungry and need another fish or two, so the whole
cycle is repeated, in the opposite direction of home. Sheena is
the leader and she will follow me as long as we are not going
home before she wants to go. She knows I will follow so she heads
along the shore where we all know there will be bears. If one
of the male brutes comes along, they head up the steep mountain
with me scrambling to follow in my horrible hip waders that have
no ankle support. Such outings have started at 10 AM, and have
lasted until 8 PM.
Lately this has been my hassle single-handed. Reno is away for
two weeks because of a guiding commitment. He came to Kamchatka
for the first time last summer when he spent six weeks doing a
bear-viewing feasibility study at Kurilskoy Lake. Before I had
asked him to help me this spring, a group of people from Switzerland,
where he spent last winter, had arranged through him to come to
Kamchatka with him as guide. He works very hard here with me and
is utterly wonderful with the cubs. They and I miss his help.