Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

October 18, 2004

When the fog and darkness started coming in, Charlie picks up bits of a dead loon that the cubs had found and hides them so that they would continue on towards home.

The five cubs and Reno, 5 kilometers from home.

Ittelman Bay is a favorite place to look for salmon drifting into the beach.

Waiting for the big male to make his move.

Sky imitating Reno reaching for the sky.

Imitating continues -- see Reno's shadow.

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


Hi from Kambalnoye Lake,

I am very aware that it has been a very long time since I last wrote a letter informing you about how the cubs are surviving and other things. Unfortunately, Wilder is dead as of September 11th, the day after I last wrote to you. It was not a terrorist but it felt like it at the time. It was the male who has given us so much trouble before and who just persisted until he got one of the cubs. Sky was anxious to be independent and did not like being inside the electric fenced pen. She would dig out occasionally, taking the rest with her. One day we did not notice what had happened and when Reno discovered it, they were gone. We went looking for them in the fog and found the big male bear eating Wilder only a short distance from the cabin. I can't begin to express what it felt like to watch that after all the hard work to keep them safe, and having developed such love for them. Not only was it heart ripping about Wilder, but it was obviously becoming an impossible situation for the rest of the cubs.

When we got back, the rest of them were home and suddenly seemed to understand very clearly why we went to all the trouble of trying to be with them on walks. For a week, Sky was good about not digging out again, but now the male became even more determined. Having a taste of the cubs that were living right where he could watch them, and there not being very many salmon at the time, he began to be persistent. Each morning, once we had left for a walk, he would check to see in which direction our scent trail led and then follow. He would wait for the right moment to attempt to cut off one or all of the cubs from us, which he sometimes tried by ambushing from the side or behind a bush, or a small hill. It became absolutely nerve-racking, and I say once more, I could never have managed without Reno, who charged, more than once, right into the face of the big male, pepper spray in hand, ready for battle. Two things saved us and the rest of the cubs. One was that once he had experience it, the bear had complete respect for pepper spray, and the second was that after getting zapped once, he never touched the electric fence again which made up the perimeter of the cub pen.

It became obvious that because this bear was such a resident of the area around the cabin, never giving us a break, that we might as well give up and go home, leaving the rest of the cubs to their obvious fate. As most of you know I do not give up. I found that the Russians in charge of the area had been given the technology to drug and take the bear away by helicopter and were eager to test their skills at doing that. I had many reservations, but the deed is done and it has been heaven here ever since. It is as though the cubs now own the place. It took about a week for them to gain confidence and they have, to a certain extent, but they are not as independent as our other cubs were at this time of the year. I think it is because of those many weeks of needing us in order to say alive. Chico, Biscuit and Rosie never felt that need. They took everything onto themselves, except of course the extra sunflower seeds they got at the cabin twice a day, as these bears get also.

Sky, Buck, Sheena and Geena, are about 120 lbs now. I can estimate fairly close because with great effort, I can still lift Sheena off the ground. This is about twice the size of the cubs around here that have real mothers at this time. At this date, approximately 3 weeks before denning, they are showing little signs that they are thinking about that. In 1997, Chico, Biscuit and Rosie would disappear for several days at a time, and although we did not know where they went, we assumed that they were checking out places they might den. When a wild snowstorm blew in on November 7th, they disappeared and I never saw them again until spring. I have a feeling that these bears might dig a den very near the cabin. There are some good places close by so I see no problem for this to work and it would sure be interesting to watch how all four manage to get in the same hole. I will wait until their den is covered deep in snow before leaving here and then I plan to be back here before they reemerge, so their safety from poachers will not be an issue.

For those of you who may have forgot, this is not a study about how to reintroduce bears into the wild even though I plan that by the end of this movie making project, there will be a tight protection of this World Heritage Site and 8 orphaned cubs will have a chance to live a wild, free life again. What this exercise is, is the reenactment of what Maureen and I did here for 7 years which was to pursue an understanding about whether bears were inherently dangerous once they lost their fear of humans, because they are unpredictable or really are ferocious. I have learned a lot more now about how it is human actions and misunderstanding that causes almost all of the problems between man and bears. Remembering Timothy Treadwell, Vitaly Nickolaenko and Michio Hoshios's deaths, I never lose site of the fact that there are exceptions which usually involve large males, but the dangerous bears and others I have studied associated with human deaths have given a lot of warning about their dangerous natures. I never ignore these warnings. I stay away from those bears that show signs of disrespect or not liking me and I carry pepper spray always. As a side note, both Reno and I agree that the bear who killed Wilder, never once threatened us in any way. He was only after the cubs.

I have never seen so many pine nuts as this year and another big salmon run has given the bears ample to eat. There has been very little eating of salmon going on for almost three weeks, by the cubs or the other bears. It seems that pine nuts are the food of choice when they have a choice.

Reno is back in Canada. He left at the end of September on the same helicopter that brought some friends from Holland here for a week. These people from Beaver Zwerfsport also generously purchased all the materials for insulating the cabin and brought them here from Petropavlovsk.

It was very interesting for me to see how strangers to this situation could handle themselves with the bears with only a few instructions as to how to control them when they wanted to play. After my having checked out the results of playing before with Chico and finding no down side, Reno and I have encouraged play with all of them. It has gotten pretty wild at times when all five converged on one of us at the same time, but we are missing no fingers and in fact hardly ever even got scratched. A firm NO from us usually ended the session. Having a walking stick along ensured that we could stop any roughhousing at will, just by holding the end of the stick against the bear's chest. This is how the Dutch kept them at arms length. It was like they had been around bears in this manner all their lives. I also found with the other three bears, that they got gentler with us as they got bigger. It is a matter of the cubs learning about their own strength and about human fragility.

Volodia Gordienko is now back with me again, having come on the helicopter that fetched the Dutch people away. We are insulating the cabin against the inevitable blast of wild snowstorms, one of which we have already experienced and since then, it seems to snow with every passing cloud. The ponds are freezing over and the last of the leaves have been torn off the alders and sent howling into the long nights. It is a very melancholy time for me here. There are so many things that this place represents, some of them horrible, but most of them unbelievably beautiful. Once again I worry about whether these cubs will know enough to dig a den. It is only a matter of faith that they will, but of course there is the knowledge that I have suffered these anxieties before with the other cubs only to be rewarded by the bear's inevitable resourcefulness.

I won't wait so long to write the next letter. Promise!

Bye For Now,

© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2004