Home Back Forward June 10th, 1999: Cubs were there!

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Since the last entry, much has happened, but it is questionable if we are closer to solving our problems with the Science Committee. As I mentioned before, I had hoped that by spending a week at our cabin at Kambalnoe Lake with the chief of this committee, the cubs and I would have a chance to change his opinion of whether our program was as much as a failure as they claimed. They have had a lot of difficulty with our not making these animals very fearful of people because, like almost every other bear expert in the world, they are sure that bears who are not afraid of people are dangerous. It's a black and white issue. If the cubs were there after eight and a half months I was confident of a positive out come. I perhaps under estimated the difficulty in changing a culture with such a long established belief. Of course the big question for me was: were the cubs going to be there?

As we flew into the snow filled caldera I stood in the door of the cockpit to have a good view of the place as the pilot circled the lake to set up a landing. I had been watching for bears most of the way down the peninsula but the flight had been too high. I now spotted my first two bears of 1999 running towards the chopper about a mile from the cabin. I wondered, could this be them? Most bears run away from helicopters! I lost sight of the bears as we turned to land and soon was busy carrying our gear and removing shutters from the door and windows. Fifteen minutes after arriving Chico and Biscuit walked up to the cabin and lay on the snow drift. I felt obliged to act nonchalant, being told that we must stop our close relationship with the 2 year old cubs, but I kept a sharp lookout for Rosie who I expected to appear any minute.

It is difficult to explain the turmoil of emotions that I was going through. I wanted to run out of the cabin and say a proper hello and tell them how much I missed them but had made up my mind that I would behave the way I was asked because I was confident that if I could just relax and let the cubs do their part, everyhing would turn out well. I had great confidence now that I had seen that they had survived another year on their own. But where was Rosie? As I watched I could see that Biscuit and Chico were not looking around expectantly as I knew they would if they had been separated on the run over to the cabin. It slowly sank into my realization that for some reason she had not survived.

Vladimir watched as the cubs turned over a bit of sod and picked carefully at some small roots right next to the cabin. He had earlier express his own images of them ripping at the cabin to get food. He subscribed to the popular belief that bears who have been fed by people always do that and worse! They also try to eat people! I wanted to go out and giving Chico a hug to show him the truth about these bears but held my resolve to go slow and just let things soak in gradually. After half an hour the cubs wandered out onto the frozen lake and slowly made their way down the north side and around the corner of the mountain, into what we call Ittleman bay, mile away.

After getting our stuff organized, Vladimir and I went for a walk to check on the availability of bear food. I had hoped that there would be a lot of pine nuts still left on the pines from last years crop but we soon found that they had long since fallen off. My concern was that the one thing that Maureen and I had not been able to do for the cubs was take them to the east coast where the low altitude and sun catching slopes produce lots of vegetation long before Kambalnoe Lake would green up. There were many bears that afternoon doing just that. Some with cubs strung out behind, they crossed the lake and climbed to the pass and disappeared over the mountain, heading to the coast. It appeared that our cubs were still relying on their last falls fat reserves to survive and we were about to learn what a harrowing time they were having to do that.

I was having a terrible time keeping up with Vladimir sinking into the soft spring snow having spent the winter recuperating from two abdominal operations and in the process, becoming horribly out of shape. The following day I borrowed skis from my friend and interpreter, Fador, who is a famous Russian climber. These made such a difference that it seemed that I could go forever. Going around the lake into Ittleman bay, I spotted the cubs asleep high on a bare piece of tundra. I wanted to watch them but Vladimir continued around the lake but soon came hurrying back as a big male brown bear came out on the ice and wondered towards us. The male soon got our sent and ran south across the lake. We were about to learn that this male bear was a specialist in killing and eating cubs, his way of making a living in the world that is not as soft and lovely as we would hope at times.

I will have to continue this story later because the electricity is about to go off and we only have time to send it over the satellite. I will say that Maureen is back from Moscow after some success with winning support for our project with the State Committee Of The Russian Federation On Environmental Protection. Continued later,


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999