Thursday, July 1, 2004
The Bears Of Kamchatka
A pilot in the wilderness re-learns the lesson that the most dangerous animal on earth is man
| For Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns, it had been a mostly sleepless night. Straight winds of more than 100 miles an hour were not uncommon in remote southeast Russia, and the storms that came with them could last for days. Their tiny homebuilt cabin perched on the tundra was barely a refuge from gusts of air that found their way through the tiny imperfections in the walls, the roof and even the floor, bringing with them deposits of snow, dust or rain. At first light, their worst fears were confirmed: The wind had put their airplane on its back. |
Other bears—wild bears—also began to accept Russell’s and Enns’ presence. “One female named Brandy looked over the situation and decided that we were trustworthy enough to babysit her cubs, Gin and Tonic,” remembers Russell. “She would wander along the lake shore, and when they were a little distracted, she would disappear. The first time she did it, they were very upset, but later on, when she did that, they didn’t mind at all. They would play around us, close enough that they’d bump into us. It was the most gorgeous situation.”
By the first of October, each of the 15-pound cubs weighed more than 150 pounds, and their coats had become luxuriously thick. The snow line began working its way down the mountainsides toward the valley, and the bears spent more and more time in a deep drowse. Winter was coming to Kamchatka, and instinct was telling the cubs that it was time to den up. Russell and Enns would return to Canada, not knowing anything more of their cubs’ destinies until the spring. But they left with something very valuable, living proof that bears and men don’t always have to be enemies.
The experiment continued over the next two years. Each spring, Russell and Enns would return to Kamchatka, and each spring, the bears were there to greet them. As word of their success spread around the world, funding for their project became easier. Soon, the cabin at Kambalnoye Lake was equipped with a satellite uplink, and regular reports of the bears’ progress, sometimes even with digital photographs, were zipped out of Russia to the waiting world. The couple also began raising money to fund a year-round effort to protect animals against poaching. “It was not fair to teach bears that people were nonthreatening if it meant that they could be killed because of their trust,” states Russell. Cabins were built to place rangers at key positions in the wilderness, and the Kolb was used to watch the progress of the project and ensure that the money that they had raised was ending up being used as it was intended.
“People asked me when I was going to get a real plane,” grins Russell. “The answer is easy: when a real plane is developed that can do what this plane can do. To me, these types of aircraft are never taken seriously as a helpful tool. This was my business aircraft.”
But in 1999, the couple returned to the cabin in Kamchatka to find only Chico and Biscuit—with no Rosie by their side. The three sisters were practically inseparable, so the fact that Rosie was missing was ominous. On a bench beside a small lake, a place where the three cubs had regularly played, but now avoided, Enns found the remains of the missing cub, the victim of a predator male bear.
|Kamchatka Bears Resources|
| To obtain a copy of Grizzly Heart by Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns, go to www.amazon.ca.|
| To order the DVD on the PBS “Nature” program, “Walking With Giants,” featuring Charlie Russell, Maureen Enns and their bears, go to www.pbs.org.|
| To contact Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns, visit their Website, www.cloudline.org.|
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