Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

July 6, 2005

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,

Irina photographs a big male as he checks out who has come back this year.

Andy, Mallesh and Irina.

The running team take a rest.

Irina runs herd on the two males who have been in the zoo a long time and now want to see the country

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


© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2005