Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Finnish wildlife (2)

Sunday, 06 October 2019
The afternoon after our boat trip, we were driven out to a clearing amongst the pines where a new guide, Suoma, briefed us. ‘It is only a short walk to the hide but we need to stay together.’ She indicated that she liked making quite a bit of noise as she walked so as not to surprise a bear. She continued her instructions, ‘And when we get to the hide you must go quickly inside.’
She strode off, leading our party of 10 between towering pines, along boardwalks across bogs dotted with cottongrass, ahead of a small cloud of surprisingly large mosquitoes and the biggest horseflies I’ve ever encountered. We came to a rise in the ground where a low hut had been built. As we headed for the door each of us spotted the bears – perhaps five of them browsing as the slanting light cut through the black pine trees. Suoma almost needed to physically push us inside.
It was a heart-stopping moment, though I guess the scene was of such calm that we had no idea of the danger we could be in.
The good people who run the little Martinselkosen hotel at Eräkeskus put out bait – salmon heads and skin and dog biscuits – each afternoon in the spring and early summer and this attracts mainly mothers and young bears. The mothers with cubs born the previous winter like it because the smell of humans tends to keep the big males away. They often harm cubs.
We each found a seat in the hut, I killed a few mosquitoes, and settled down to look out at the bears through Perspex slits. Beneath the Perspex windows – which on the outside had been clawed and chewed – were portals for cameras. These closed snug with cloth and drawstring that pulled tight around camera lenses to allow photography without too much human smell reaching the browsing bears. Despite that the bears obviously knew where we were, yet they came near enough that if I’d been stupid enough to push my arm out through the camera slot I could have patted a big furry back. It was awe-inspiring to be so close to animals that can weigh as much as 350kg and looked as if they could reach up two and a half metres if they were to see something interesting above them. This was eco-tourism at its best.
Because of the baiting, we were treated to excellent views of lots of individuals. It was hard to see them as anything but adorable but as we watched I could see how nervous even the bears were of each other. The one- or two-year-olds in particular were quick to shin up a tree to keep clear of the big males or grumpy mothers looking out for their cubs. Many bears faces were scared and slashed. And fights over food were common.
The previous day, Markku had talked of the dangers of the forest and told us that in the last hundred years there had been only one death attributed to a bear attack in Finland, whereas in the US there is a death most years. Markku thought the biggest wildlife threat was from elk. They are so huge that if a car hits one it tends to fall on the car and crush the driver; there are around 10 fatalities a year in Finland due to elk.
We were fortunate in having enough time to visit various hides in Eräkeskus and also in the Boreal Wildlife Centre a couple of hours drive away in Viiksimontie. The routine was to be shut in the hide from before sundown until about eight in the morning during which interlude we could enjoy the tranquillity of the forest punctuated by unearthly calls and howlings, bear battles, cubs playing, huge swooping white-tailed eagles, a passing glimpse of a lone wolf, and raven raiding parties.
There was one moment when S and I were alone in a hut and I realised that to open the door of the hide only required a bear to place a paw on the handle. Bears are keen to get inside as they associate people with food and no doubt their keen sense of smell tells them that we had sandwiches and biscuits with us.
I had a bit of a Jurassic Park moment as I imagined a bear opening the door and coming inside to see what it could scrounge, and choosing between ham sandwiches or us. I wished the door had been lockable.
Finland has a population of around 3500 brown bears and hunters are permitted to shoot 30 each year. I am uneasy about the idea of baiting bears to come close to delight tourists and then a couple of weeks later people shoot them. But I can’t understand why anyone would want to shoot such magnificent creatures just for the thrill of it. Presumably hunters have tiny penises.
 Relaxing amongst the black pines
 
 Is that big bloke coming?
 
 When a big male appeared these cubs' mother chased them up a tree
Posted: 06/10/2019 17:10:32 by cmsadmin | with 0 comments
Filed under: black pine forest, Boreal Wildlife Centre, brown bear, Eräkeskus, Finland, Viiksimontie



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