Home Back Forward May 22 , 1999: Back in Petropavlovsk

Kambalnoe Lake is 150 miles beyond this volcano

A Street in Petropavlovsk

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I have been trying to get this entry out to you for one week. Several problems have slowed my intentions. First, the friends that we left the satellite phone with last fall are away, but finally their daughter found it for me. The many hours (days) that I have spent negotiating the fine points of our new season's agreement with Kronotsky reserve, consistently overlapped with the times that the electricity is on. Separate parts of the city get power at different times as there is not fuel for all the generators. Each home gets about 6 hours a day, with every one making a mad dash to use appliances, causing more problems with outages. My computer battery is not holding a charge and I put off getting a new one before I left home thinking that it would be easy to find. Not so! I'm hoping Maureen can bring one with her along with the growing list of other things I forgot.

The countryside is still very snowy and for a couple of days it was melting here at sea level, but today is windy, cold and snowing which is disappointing to everyone because the city's central heating system has been shut off for the summer to further conserve scarce fuel, meaning there is also no hot water.

People seem reluctant to talk about the winter, perhaps because they are reluctant to remember. They seem resigned to their fate and eager to take on the many challenges that each day brings. Only one person talked to me about the hopelessness that she felt about her country. The family with whom I am boarding, have three children ranging in age from 10 to 16 years. The mother, Jennya, teaches psychology at an institute and is making $60 a month. Her husband's business died last summer, almost at the instant of the August 17th 1998 economy crash. Leaving him with no choice but to start again with nothing to work with, because his country is worse off than he is. On that date, not only did people loose their money but also their future of making money.

Amazingly, the more challenging their life becomes the more discipline they show. I was taken to the music school recital which was the grand finale of a year of hard work both by students and faculty. What I saw and heard brought tears to my eyes several times. The amount of skill by such young people and their teachers that was displayed there was like nothing I have ever seen or would hope to see in Canada. Jennya said that often the inside temperature of the school was only 5 degrees C while her children and others practiced during the winter.

In a few days I will fly by helicopter to our cabin at Kambalnoe Lake. I am excited to see the cubs after 8 months. The head scientist who will accompany me there has asked me to not encourage any friendship with them ever again. They have not accepted that our study is not just about successfully reintroducing cubs back to the wild but about exploring ways to sustain a safe relationship so as to live closer to these animals to allow them more country in which to live.

It is not just Russian scientists who have predicted that these cubs will become aggressive as they get older. Many bear people in North America share this concern as well. This is all the more reason to answer this question because Maureen and I have this wonderful opportunity to do just that and we would hope that if things unfold as we expect, it would help bear managers all over the world develop a better approach to managing, based on understanding rather than fear.

We believe that it is a matter of how they are treated, and the trust in our behavior on their part that determines how they respond. So far they have become gentler as they get bigger and stronger. Of course our first priority is always safety because we realize that if there is ever an accident, 35 years of trying to change the way people think about these animals will go down the tube. I am hoping that during the few days that I have to talk to this person the cubs and myself will change his mind, not only to be allowed to continue our friendship with Chico, Biscuit and Rosie, but also to bring other cubs here if they are available. The plan is to go to Kambalnoe Lake on the May 26th and return here again on the 30th to draft our agreement with Kronotsky Preserve when Maureen arrives - before she and Tatiana go to Moscow. I will do my best to keep everyone updated. This should be easier from our cabin as our power source there is more predictable.


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999