Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

August 13, 2004

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 undulating ground.

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 whole thing.

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 ran away.

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.


© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2004