Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

November 10 & 18, 2004

The Dutch group was a good illustration on how people and bears could almost immediately learn how to be together nicely. Notice the walking sticks that I gave some of them. These sticks control the closeness of the bears. It is held against the bear's chest and that stops them coming any nearer. I have never seen it fail to work in this way with curious bears.

The cubs explore the lake on the ice.

Sheena and Geena in the snow.

Winter scene.

(Click on any Image to see a higher resolution version)


November 10, 2004
I am still at Kambalnoye Lake cabin. I had hoped that the cubs would have been in their den by now, but all I had to go by is what Chico, Biscuit and Rosie had done in 1997. That year there was no snow until November 1st and then during a cold storm on the 8th they disappeared and I never saw them until I came back the first of May the following year. This year it started to snow on October 9th and there was a big storm on the 23rd that dumped about 40 cms and it was cold. The cubs hadn't seemed confused about denning, perhaps because there was so much for them to eat at the time. The storm caused them to try digging but they were perhaps overwhelmed by the size of the hole it would take to hold all four of them.

One snowy day I watched them start excavating. I'm not sure if it was a den they were trying to make, but Sky and Sheena, who were doing most of the digging, soon ran into rocks and stopped their excavation. This got me thinking that perhaps they did not have what it takes to find a comfortable place to spend the winter. I never found the other cubs' den. They had just disappeared into the storm and I could only guess what mountainside they had holed up on. Perhaps they only burrowed under some pines in a hollow and let the snow drift over them and then just made a pocket in the snow. I have found where adult bears have done this and it seems to be quite adequate.

The other difference with these cubs is that with all the problems we had with the male bear wanting to eat them they had developed a deeper sense of needing protection and since they have no mother they have depended on humans for safety. That is my job. The first cubs were more independent from the start, but they did not have the same threats. If these cubs were with a mother bear, they would be even more dependent on her than they are of me. Additionally, these cubs will not have a mother's milk throughout the winter.

I decided to help them with their den. Volodia and I dug a hole, five feet by five feet by three feet deep, into a hillside where there was drainage. We made a layered roof starting with boards, a space filled with insulation, then tarpaper over that and then more boards on top. I knew the cubs would dig down through the dirt so this way they could not damage the tarpaper and insulation. We left only a small hole under the roof so that they could fashion their own entrance once we showed them the place, which they did with apparent glee and a lot of flying dirt.

There is snow built up on it now and they have been sleeping in it almost every night since it was built. Occasionally when it is above freezing, they sleep out on the mountain as they did last night when it was raining. The rain seems to be no problem to their comfort, but as soon as the temperature drops a few degrees they are back in the den. Today, it dropped only 4 degrees and they went into their nest at 3pm. This is a good sign that they are getting ready to stay in. I am going to order a helicopter for Friday November 12th. There is a slim chance that the weather will cooperate so that it will actually come that day, but at least it sets the process of getting out of here in motion.

I am ready to get away from here. It is hard work living in the wilderness, hauling water, washing clothes, mending them, fixing all the technical things that go wrong. A few days ago it was the windmill that quit working. I took it down off the tower, went over a few possibilities and put it back up. It still did not work, but eventually I figured out that it was the regulator in the cabin that was the problem. I could not fix it so the windmill is down for the season. Then I had to rearrange and rewire the solar panels into the cabin so that they would be more efficient. I am very grateful that Reno, now Vladimir have been doing most of the cooking, I do the cleaning. Of course the biggest job has been making sure the cubs have had the best chance of survival.

Observing this valley for so many years, I am obsessed with understanding what is happening, which bears have denned, on what ridge and figuring out what other animals are using the area now that winter is setting in. It is easy walking now that the lake is frozen and a hike around its shores a few days ago revealed tracks of two wolverines, two river otters, and a wolf. I have seen all these animals at various other times of the year, but this day only their tracks told me they were here. There are also many golden, white tailed, and Stellers eagles. Those except for the golden are catching spawning char and salmon in the unfrozen up welling springs and the golden eagles are there because of a few remaining ducks, two species of ptarmigan, large hares, who I hardly ever see, but who's tracks in the snow indicate that there are many. I recently saw a pure white gyrfalcon and peregrine falcons are common. On rare occasions, I see snow sheep on the high ridges above the lake.

I am tired and feeling out of touch with the world. I will have been here exactly five months on Friday. This is the fourteenth year that I have spent at least two months living in the wilderness. Once I get to the city I will have to relearn how to act in a civilized manner.

November 18, 2004
The helicopter made it to us on Saturday November 13th. I had a great Sunday relaxing, but at 8:45 am Monday, two police came to the door and arrested me. My interpreter friend, where I have stayed for many years, had left the house and I had no way to understand what I had done, or as it turned out, what I hadn't done. I was taken to the police headquarters in a Russian style jeep with curtained windows, fingerprinted and locked in a room until my partner Tatiana who conducts the scientific part of my bear work in Russia, got there. It turned out that she was also in trouble as my agent. The problem was that though my visa was good for a full year, I had only registered for two months when I came here in April. I had planned to go back to Canada in June and Tatiana forgot to reregister me when my plans changed once I decided to rescue the five cubs. We paid a 2500 ruble fine and I was freed, but the process took 5 hours. So much for civilization.

I fly back to Canada on November 28th.

Bye For Now,

© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2004