Meeting bears Alaska-style

As many of you know, I spend a lot of my time on the road giving talks and fundraising and this of course means time away from our bears. So when I was offered the chance to spend time with some wild bears during my US roadshow last year, it was a dream come true. Nick Coti (ex-President of Juneau World Affairs Council) and Ken Leghorn (now with Nature Conservancy who has worked for environmental protection in Alaska for many years) took me by seaplane to Pack Creek in the hope of seeing some bears rousing from hibernation now that spring had finally arrived. 

The weather was still unusually cold and the snow still deep for the time of year, so many of the bears were sensibly staying in bed, in dens fashioned from tree trunks and caves. 

However, seconds after landing, we looked out into the distance and saw a look-alike “Caesar” (Alaska-style) out on the beach – a young male brown bear feeding on clams in the sand as the tide was receding (see the tiny dot in the middle of the photo!). I felt a growing kind of wondrous fear to be in such close proximity with a real-life wild brown bear. At one point he may have smelled us, or just heard something in the forest behind, as he was clearly spooked and stood up abruptly on his hind legs looking around and sniffing the air. All was well apparently, and he resumed eating.

When he'd finished his mid-morning snacking, we went over to where he’d been and saw the clam carnage! A million shells scattered haphazardly across the beach, but hardly any broken – just delicately cracked open with those humongous teeth, before the unfortunate inhabitants were sucked from their homes. His foot prints were huge and had filled with seawater creating claw-outlined pools. I asked Nick if he minded if I named this beautiful bear and was given the OK. Caesar immediately came to mind in recompense for naming our gorgeous China female brown bear a boy’s name when we first rescued her. It suited him too – a young lad out there in the wilderness and possibly one of the first to have a name.

Later during a mini-trek, we came across the biggest scats (bear poo!) full of fur. Deers had not fared well in this cruel winter and, severely weakened, had moved down the snowy mountain to the beach to eat seaweed. For many this would be their last meal as we saw the remains of several along the shoreline who had lay down to die of starvation. With nothing being wasted in this baron environment, the bears had been eating their fill, leaving just the legs and hooves.

Ken said quietly at one point, "I'm so lucky to live in Alaska because it seems so far away from the terrible problems of the world." And, at that moment on that truly pristine piece of land so wild and free, I knew that Mother Nature would agree.


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