Home Back Forward July 29th, 1999: Brandy Gets Mad At Chico

The lake an a rare hot summer day

Two large males at the falls.

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On the 25th I was flying back from Kurilskoye lake when I saw Brandy and her cubs asleep on a big snow drift, like those that still linger in many places. Many bears choose to take their naps on the snow because there are less mosquitoes and it is cool. They still have a lot of last winters hair. We hadn't seen her for several days so I decided to land on a small lake and wander with them for a while to take advantage of a rare opportunity to explore a long time curiosity of mine; what degree of trust is possible with a female grizzly and her cubs? I have been quite amazed at how she seems to enjoy our company as do the cubs.

Our procedure is to let them know who we are as soon as they are aware of our presence. We do that by talking to them the same way we do to Chico or Biscuit. I this case it was one of the cubs who lifted its head when I came up on the drift about 200 meters away so I called her name and immediately she flopped down on the snow again. This roused her mother who glanced my way for a couple of seconds and put her head back down on her big paws. The other cub never moved. Talking quietly, I slowly moved to within 30 meters and sat on a small bolder that had melted out of the snow. About 20 minutes later the cubs got playful and started to wrestle and soon the mother got into the act and batted them around gently and would take their whole head into her mouth. Maureen had the digital camera so I can't illustrate how wonderful they are with their cubs. At one point the lighter colored cub ran right at me and skidded up to within about three meters and tore off back to the others again as though trying to entice me into the game. I must confess that I was tempted. The main creek that flows into Kambalnoe Lake ran under the drift and eventually Brandy wandered down to where it spilled out and looked carefully for salmon. They are aware that the salmon are already in the lake and it was only two weeks later than now, last year, that they were catching salmon in this same place.

It was then that I saw Chico and Biscuit coming in our direction from across a tundra flat. Brandy doesn't tolerate them very well as I think Maureen mentioned in one of her entrees. Brandy and her cubs were down in the creek and could not see what was coming until they got to within about 75 meters. By this time the cubs had spotted me and when Brandy tried to run them off they only went a short distance before they stopped and both started to work their way towards the creek again. Twice more she made runs at them. One of her cubs was now on my side of the creek within about five meters of me when this was going on. It seems strange that she would leave the cubs with me while she would go chase Chico and Biscuit, but lately she has shown no concern no mater where they are in relation to me. All very interesting in terms of what we have been finding out about a grizzlies behavior once they decide to trust you. They rarely choose to trust another bear but they will trust humans. I am curious to know how far this trust goes but we have to go slowly to examine the question. Maureen and I are aware that should one of us get hurt, all our work is for naught and bears will suffer instead of benefit from our years of hard work.

Eventually Brandy gave up and started grazing on Angelica and Sedge and I wondered downstream to say hello to our cubs, although I don't really see them as "our cubs" any more. They are so much their own precious selves and we are only one part of their complex world. There is little question that they enjoy us when we are with them though, and I'm quite sure that their behavior this day with regard to not letting Brandy chase them away was because I was there. For some reason both families slowly grazed towards each other but on opposite sides of the creek. While I was looking another direction Brandy suddenly crossed the creek and charged Chico and Biscuit. When I looked around all the bears were coming right at me at high speed so I stepped aside to let C and B go on by but I had little room without jumping into the swift flowing water to let Brandy pass. I decided just to stand there and she hardly even glanced my way as she went by me at about four meters. C and B ran a short distance up a steep scree slope of what we call Chico Mountain and just flopped down in a bratty way as if to taunt the mother. Brandy worked her way around behind a small shoulder up hill where she was out of sight and then rushed them again up wind so as to surprise them at close range. She singled out Chico whether by chance or by design and this time really kept after her going across, and a bit down slope, and out of sight around the curve of the mountain side. All of us must have expected this tiff to end soon as it was quite clear to me that Chico could easily outrun Brandy. Biscuit lay down again and the cubs, who were very close to me, were soon rolling around quite unconcerned for a few minutes at least. But Brandy didn't come back. After 10 minutes I left the cubs and crossed the creek so to be able to see up the mountain. I was surprised to see Brandy still chasing Chico 500 meters up slope through some heavy alders. Chico was still easily keeping ahead of her but it was clear that Brandy was very determined. Chico climbed out onto a cliff, a tactic they used as small cubs to get away from larger bears and it worked again because Brandy wouldn't follow her but she still didn't give up. She went to the top of the cliff and stared down at Chico. Finally after hour she started down the mountain taking a short cut directly towards us through the alders. Chico came down another way to look for Biscuit. By this time the cubs were getting upset and started to follow the scent tracks off in the direction that they had last seen their mother. By the time Brandy and Chico got down the cubs were all the way up on the cliff. Biscuit by now had wandered around the corner and started to eat. That left Brandy and Chico together trying to sort out where everyone had gone. By now Brandy was not interested in continuing the squabble. She followed her cubs scent back up the mountain. By now all three were quite frantic, the cubs bawling and her cuffing and snorting. They followed her tracks down completing the circle. It took her a total of 45 minutes to sort it out and finally get together again.

I flew the mile back to the cabin to tell Maureen what I had seen but was puzzled by the whole thing. Why was she so mad at Chico? Probably because C and B would not run away when she first asked them to. Did she sort out Chico as the leader or was it by chance because she could only chase one at a time? It looked like she had no interest in Biscuit. And of course why did she feel it was perfectly OK to leave her cubs with Biscuit and I for the half hour that it took to get all this out of her system? Who knows? Maureen had caught the first feed of char this season so we sat and enjoyed them while pondering all that make our work so fascinating.

© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999