Voices from Russia

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Russia: Beware of Foodie-Bears!

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Was it Your Turn to Lick the Spoon. 2012

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T-shirts in souvenir shops in Moscow’s Arbat tourist district read, “I’ve been to Russia, there are no bears”. The print mocks the popular stereotype that Russia’s all about endless cold winters, vodka, and bears have rescued a couple after a bear broke into their countryside home, attracted by the smell of fresh borshch. A patrol turned up in the early hours after a neighbour raised the alarm and found the couple hiding in their sauna, where they temporarily lived as their home was under renovation. Meanwhile, the bear enjoyed hot borshch in their garden. A warning shot was enough to scare the intruder back into the woods. No one was hurt, although the bear damaged the building. The couple said that they’d left the homemade borshch to cool on the porch and went to bed. They woke to “loud banging” and saw a bear breaking the windows of their glassed-in porch. Then, it got inside and treated himself to all the borshch, which was still hot and delicious. Often, people spotted bears looking for food around dachas in the area before, but happily, no one reported any attacks.

Although the case may seem funny to some Americans, but he who laughs last laughs best, as encounters between bears and humans are actually not that rare in the USA and Canada, and may far exceed those reported in Russia. Thus, recently, hungry grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park were really determined to share a meal with people. Since the area is popular with tourists, officials had to issue a warning after they recorded several bear attacks on visitors in the park straddling Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Officials with the park and two national forests that border it said that numerous recent sightings of bears seeking berries and other foods near roadways and popular trails prompted them to issue the advisory, which called on campers to take precautions like carrying bear spray and hiking in groups. Some 600 federally-protected grizzly bears wander around Yellowstone and its border areas. Each year in the region there are about five encounters between bears and humans that result in injuries. Fatal attacks are rare.

In recent years, conservationists said that climate change caused a decline in whitebark pines, which produce the nuts that are a food source for grizzlies and black bears, forcing them to roam around, starving and frustrated. Late summer and early fall are typical times for encounters, as bears begin to seek out more food to pack on pounds before going into winter hibernation. At the same time, summer is the peak tourist season for national park visitors. In July 2010, a grizzly killed a camper and injured two others in a national forest in Montana near Yellowstone. The following year, in separate attacks, bears fatally wounded two hikers. On 15 August, a grizzly wounded two hikers at Yellowstone, but a second pair of hikers warded off the bear with bear spray. The same day, a grizzly bit two biologists collecting grizzly habitat data in Idaho near the park. The scientists drove off the bear with bear spray.

Meanwhile, Nevada wildlife officials pressed local governments near Lake Tahoe to penalise residents for not having bear-proof trashcans, saying that existing regulations to address trash-raiding black bears are insufficient. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Nevada Department of Wildlife Director Tony Wasley told trustees that they could address the vast majority of human-bear conflicts by decreasing the availability of human garbage. He said, “Ultimately, total removal of human food sources as an attractant for bears is the only way to avoid these types of human-bear conflicts”. Wasley also thought that it would help matters if the district enforced existing laws that penalise residents for being careless with their trash. Local jurisdictions already have rules on the books to address problems posed by trash-raiding bears, but many residents don’t think that they go far enough.

In the Canadian province of Ontario, the bear population dangerously grew to an alarming number. According to a recent census by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, there are some 150,000 bears in Ontario; no one is entirely sure of really how many of them there are precisely. The bear population has increased every year since the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in 1999, and so has the number of incidents involving bears, including a vicious and unprovoked attack on a woman near Peterborough. Thus, some local activists favour an early season hunt.

In the northern part of the Canadian province of Manitoba, a polar bear chased and bit a man. Earlier this month, the bear chased Garett Kolsun whilst he was walking home after a night of celebrating with friends in Churchill. It cornered him on a porch, swiped at him with his paw, and sank its teeth into his hip until Kolsun said he managed to distract it with the light from his mobile, which allowed him to flee to safety. The Hudson Bay community has fame as the polar bear capital of the world, and it attracts tourists coming for at least one glimpse of the predator. Nevertheless, the animals pose a threat to residents, and when they’re captured, they’re kept in a holding facility that’s commonly referred to as the polar bear jail.

However, this particular offender got a new home in a Winnipeg zoo. Margaret Redmond, president of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said that, within the next few weeks, the bear would be transported from Churchill to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre. Redmond said that this would be the first polar bear from the wild to be housed at the facility, which the conservancy opened last year. On Saturday, Redmond said, “Otherwise, it was determined that he was going to be euthanised because he was such a danger”. His new home will eventually be part of a new four-hectare (10 acres) exhibit, due to open next June, that profiles northern Canada’s animals and its fragile environment. Redmond said that she hasn’t personally spoken with Kolsun about how he feels about the polar bear’s new home in Winnipeg, but she said that provincial officials talked with him before the decision was made. Kolsun suffered only a few superficial puncture wounds and scratches from the attack. Redmond said, “He feels very good about this option, he sees that this is an opportunity for the animal, rather than having to be euthanised, to serve as an ambassador to his species in what will ultimately be a very large and comfortable area for the bear”.

That was a lucky escape for the Canadian bear, but his black pal captured after it wandered through Athol MA wasn’t that lucky, as Massachusetts Environmental Police euthanised it. They caught the bear after it climbed a tree and police tranquilised it. A spokesman for the state environmental affairs office told the Athol Daily News that, after that, the bear couldn’t be released in New Hampshire or Vermont, as both states are holding black bear hunting season; they have an agreement with Massachusetts that any “chemically immobilized” animal can’t be released into the wild within 45 days of the season’s start. It’s not hunting season in Massachusetts until November. However, the spokesman said Environmental Police euthanised the bear, instead of releasing it, because the chemicals used to tranquilise it are potentially fatal to any hunter who might shoot the bear, then eat it.

Another black bear felt at home in Gatlinburg TN and was caught on camera walking the city’s streets, climbing up the steps of the local convention centre, and even following the crosswalk to cross the street. ABC News said that Tricia Alexander captured a video of the bear, then, posted it to her Facebook page. She was sitting in her car, but not everyone had the good sense to keep at a distance. As the bear made its way through the city’s streets, weaving in and out of restaurant-goers, people clamoured to come within just feet of it in order to get a good picture of with their mobile-phone cameras. Dr Marcy Souza of the University of Tennessee School of Veterinary Medicine told local ABC affiliate WATE, “Unfortunately, a lot of people in our society are getting more desensitised to wild animals, as we move more and more into this digital age, and we don’t actually get out into the woods, so, you don’t encounter these animals very frequently except for on TV. Although he looks cute and cuddly, they can actually be pretty fierce. That bear probably weighed somewhere in the range of 800 pounds (363 kilogrammes) would be my guess, and they can do some serious damage if he got cornered as he did in some of those situations”.

A commenter on Alexander’s Facebook post wrote that he works near where the video was shot and the bear “comes around all the time”. Alexander herself commented that she had another encounter with a bear on the streets of Gatlinburg in 1997 in a hotel parking lot. The abovementioned cases are just a few in a string of human-bear encounters registered in bear-inhabited communities, so their residents should better not banter about Russians and their hungry bears. The borshch-eating bear was at least decent and well-behaved… he finished his meal and left like an Englishman… with no goodbye.

5 October 2013

Voice of Russia World Service

http://voiceofrussia.com/2013_10_05/Russia-beware-of-foodie-bears-7537/

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