Home Back Forward August 12, 1999: Every Bear is Different

A Closer Look

Claws of Chico

Brandy feeds the Drinks

Biscuit and Chico

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Walking about on the tundra with Biscuit and Chico is a very special experience and one I constantly appreciate. With such total mutual trust, I am able to see what they are looking at. With the drawing, A Closer Look, I could see Chico examining a small rock just off the tip of her nose and playing with it with amazing dexterity in use of claws. In the photo, "Claws of Chico", I had the digital camera about 12" from her foot. I want to illustrate that the claws are very beautiful. I focus on the claws and paws in my drawings and photos for reasons that are important to me. A bear's beautiful claw or footprint symbolizes a new understanding I now have of grizzlies. I view bears as sensitive and intelligent critters, not the stuff of myths of old where the claw symbolized slashing and tearing of human flesh. The paw of the bear is like the human hand in many ways, with their claw similar to our finger's nail. But, unlike our nails, the claw is used as an important tool for holding things or sorting out plants. I also hold my camera lens very close to the foot to illustrate the trust I have gained. One time I placed my hand on the sole of Chico's foot while she was sleeping. I was surprised at the warmth of the footpad.

I joined Charlie two days ago to walk up into the alluvial fan of Ittleman Bay with the Cocktail Family. A different level of trust exists with these three bears. I have been around Brandy, Gin and Tonic for two seasons now and know her to be very gentle with her cubs and accepting of our company. She is increasingly interested in having us along on her journeys. She pauses for us to catch up to her. On this day, she approached to about 30 feet and lay down to sleep. Very soon Gin and Tonic came to her side and started to beg for a meal. This is done with a loud moaning sound. Brandy, now awake, moved even closer to us. To my delight she moved out to a spot with a spectacular view over the Bay. She sat down, leaned back and invited her cubs to come and suckle. I was ecstatic. Never did I imagine that a Mother Grizzly would like us so much that she would feed her family so close to us. The two cubs made loud "chirring" sounds, like Rosie used to make when she sucked on Biscuit's hair. Biscuit was so tolerant of Rosie's need for such a soothing replacement for a mother, that she would allow this behavior. Last year I sat with a microphone by Rosie as she made this "chirring" sound. I call it: "The Song of the Bear". It is so haunting.

After The Drinks (Gin and Tonic) had finished their milky meal, they looked up at me with white foam all over their muzzle. Brandy rose and they all wandered up into a creek bed. Charlie decided to go along with them as he has been hoping they would go up on the ridge overlooking Kambalnoe Lake.

I decided to wander back to camp along the lakeshore. Earlier in the day we had seen a large dark mother with two spring cubs, being chased out of the fishing spots by a subadult reddish grizzly. I could see him on the shore in the direction I hoped to travel. I could see the bear family farther along; also along my route. Chico and Biscuit had showed up too and were off to the right observing all these other bears. The wind was blowing from behind me so I knew that very soon my scent would reach the bears. I spoke in quite a loud, but friendly voice to our cubs. The subadult heard me and picked up my scent as I had anticipated that he would. He stood up, looked at me and then started heading directly to where I was standing 200 yards across the flat. I was not certain what he was up to but wondered if he may be considering a repetition of his earlier game, which was chasing other bears away. For some bears the "chase" is an activity thoroughly enjoyed. Or maybe he was simply curious about me and wondered about the source of the sounds when I had spoken earlier. I climbed a small hill for a better and more dominant view of his approach. As the distance between us narrowed I began to think it wasn't idle curiosity. I was about to be the target of a chase. This is not a game I wanted to play. I squared off my feet, took the cap off my bear spray and spoke very sharply to him, telling him this was not a good idea. He ducked down in a ditch, which ran parallel to me. It looked like he thought I couldn't see him as he headed by. He was about 100 yards away at this point. When he stopped and poked his head out of the grass, now up wind from me, I realized he was trying to give me his scent as the wind was blowing from him to me. I suspect he thought this would make me run and the fun of the chase could start. I stayed put and talked some more. He gave up and started grazing on sedges, to my relief.

Heading down to the beach, I approached the cubs, giving my scent and the sound of my voice to the dark chocolate colored mother bear, just up-shore. Chico and Biscuit suddenly took a run at the mother bear, only to change their minds abruptly when she took a couple of leaps towards them. It is quite possible our cubs wanted to move her out of my path. I have observed this behavior twice before with Chico. Our cubs quickly changed their minds and jumped rapidly up the bank. The Chocolate family was momentarily out of site. I thought they had gone up hill too and continued on my way only to meet them very suddenly around a sharp bend in the lakeshore. I do not know this group of bears and had my bear spray instantly in my hand. She continued to walk directly towards me as if to say she had had enough of everyone chasing her today. Her body language was clear. It was not aggressive, but it definitely read "yield!". Like Chico and Biscuit, I climbed up hill slowly, so as not to incite a chase response. I stopped 20 feet up and spoke to her calmly, turned my shoulder to show that I trusted her, while keeping a sharp eye on her ears. They were swiveling which told me she was interested in my voice. I had the feeling she was tempted to take a jump in my direction as she hesitated briefly just below me, looking a bit agitated. As I continued to chat, I could see she became calm. She peacefully wandered on down the beach with her two small offspring close on her heels. She was one of the biggest female bears I have seen. She seemed about twice the size of Brandy, much older and about I suspect weighed about 600 pounds.


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999