More bears for Kambalnoye:
I am back at my cabin for the second time this season. This
has been, by far the most difficult year I have ever had with
regards to my work here. To tell the whole story would take
me at least 50,000 words and much of it is not suitable to for
the website and anyway I don't want to talk about negative things.
To give you a very abbreviated account -- In March, I was refused
an official invitation which was necessary to get my visa. I
am told that the reason was because of my problem with registration
last season, which put my name on the "list" in the
computer system. Last year, my agent forgot to re-register me
to indicate that I would leave at a later date once I decided
to rescue five orphaned cubs in May. This caused me and those
who I asked help from, a huge amount of work and frustration,
but thanks to the hard work of three of my Russian friends,
two months after I was refused, I walked through customs in
Moscow. It was not a cake-walk, everything was obviously still
on the computer and it took a nail biting 30 minutes for it
to be discussed, reviewed and kicked around by a handful of
customs people, but eventually they allowed me to go through.
I have been told by several people in the know that it is near
impossible to do this, because my name had to be removed from
computers all over Russia as well as Russian Consulates around
the world. To attest to this, it took several, very precious
days convincing the Russians in Ottawa that I was welcome back
in Russia even after I had the invitation. They held me up to
within 20 minutes of being able to catch my flight.
This entire hassle delayed my arrival by five weeks. Jeff Turner
and Paul Zakora patiently waited and eventually came with me.
Jeff and Sue Turner are creating a documentary for the BBC this
year. When we got to Petropavlovsk there were two cubs in the
zoo, that I of course wanted to take with us, but was told that
it would take no less than two months of paperwork to get them.
We got word about two more cubs in the village of Anavgai in
central Kamchatka, but they too would be impossible to get it
seemed for the same reason because of my working within a Federal
Preserve. Anyway, the idea was to get to Kambalnoye as quickly
as possible. I wanted to find last year's cubs and understand
if everything with them was OK.
When we got here on the 1st of June there was a tunnel in the
snow at the den site I had constructed for them near the cabin
and we could still discern faint, old muddy tracks leading away
from it. On examining the den there was no doubt that Sheena,
Geena, Sky and Buck had all survived the winter, but eventually
they had gone somewhere far enough away that we could not find
them. We were about two weeks late. I have never seen snow here
like there was this year. There still is a lot around. For as
long as snowfall records have been kept, this year was a record.
Even though there were still a lot of pine nuts from the previous
year still on the pines, they would have been difficult to get
to in most places due to the snow. It made sense that the cubs
would head for lower ground.
Jeff could only stay for two weeks before heading back to Canada.
I decided that I would go back to Petropavlovsk with him and
have another try at getting new cubs. If that plan failed, I
would come back one more time in July to see if any of the four
cubs from last year came back to the lake. I feel confident
that at least a couple of them are thriving while remembering
the abundance of salmon and pine nuts there was for them here
last year and will show up soon. I miss them immensely.
When we got to Petropavlovsk, miraculously the cubs at the zoo were
available, with no paperwork, but we were told that it would be
unofficial. I would not be able to write about any of this on this
website. Jeff and Paul left for Canada with the plan that they would
be back in a month.
My friend Irina Kruglyakova, the main person behind solving
my visa problem and I took the 10 hour bus trip north to Anavgai
to see if we could get those two cubs as well. The guy who has
them runs a camp for children and each year he somehow gets
cubs for an attraction at this camp. I don't want to know how
he does this, but he claims that they are valuable to him and
he would not give them up. Of course like everyone who takes
cubs for reasons such as this, they tell everyone that they
will go to the zoo in Moscow once they are too big for their
various flimsy facility. I never let them get away with that
story. All the zoos in Russia can only accommodate a few bears
each year. There are probably hundreds of cubs across this country
that find themselves in similar situations, at about eight months
of age, when they become strong and begin to eat a great deal,
the simple truth is that they are killed.
The day before we were to load the Yelizovo zoo cubs in the
helicopter and fly to Kambalnoye, I was told that everything
could now be official. Who knows what goes on? Anyway, it meant
that I could write about it.
Irina is helping me here too. For safety reasons there is also
a ranger here with us who's name is Vladimia. It is his job
to protect us from being killed by a bear. Of course this is
all aggrevating for me. My long, exhaustive program here has
been about how it is possible to live with bears and not kill
each other. But since Vitaly Nikolaenko's death in December
2003 the Preserve has had an excuse for charging people 1700
rubles a day for this ranger protection service, of which Vladimia
will get 300 for himself. I will give him some extra. Vitaly
was a famous researcher in the Kronotskiy Preserve for thirty
years. A couple years ago, he was killed by a big male brown
bear that had given him many clear indications that he did not
want anyone near him. Vitally even wrote about this in his diary
and the rest of story was written in the snow. I hope that within
a month Irina will be given the ranger job. It is rare for a
woman, but she has more than enough credentials for being a
ranger, including a permit to own and carry a gun.
These cubs we have now are the ninth and tenth that I have brought
here. Last year, I had five orphans and they were easier to
work with than these two. There are probably several reasons
for this, the main one being that they are both males. They
have been in the zoo the longest time prior to my getting them
of any I have attempted to rehabilitate. There is a lot of stuff
that goes on in a Russian zoo that causes problems the longer
they are there. Of the five I worked with a year ago, Wilder
and Buck were males, but they wisely let the females set the
example for behavior and were happy to follow. I think that
if Wilder and Buck had been by themselves, they too would have
been very similar to these males. Females seem to recognize
and appreciate who their protectors are and act accordingly.
We are taking them on walks, better described as runs. I have
never seen anything like it. They don't play very much, they
just go, interested mostly in traveling, not stopping to explore
vegetation that might be good to eat along the way. If I did
not have two younger people helping me I would have lost them
by now. On the way out we just try to keep up. When it is time
to come home, I get in front and Irina and Vladimia herd them
along behind me. Irina insists that they are probably not orphans
at all and that they could have run away from their mother.
Normally cubs keep close, running in circles around you while
engaging with each other and with you, in almost constant play.
Because of this, it is usually a struggle to get them to go
anywhere. When I am soulfully reminiscent about this, Irina
insists that it would be a boring alternative to the challenges
that we now have. At this rate, I should have no problem staying
in shape this summer.
The new cubs' names are Andy and Mallesh.
Bye For Now,