The bear ‘thing’ is one Russian stereotype that I joke about when speaking with Russian friends and acquaintances. From both sides of the compass, it’s occasionally proved to be a warm piece of nonsense (when presented as such) that we could share and enjoy -rather than a joke voiced at another’s expense.
“We don’t have bears in our cities!” exclaimed my Russian friend, “Of course you do,” I goaded, “They play balalaikas in the street whilst swigging bottles of vodka!” Oh, how we laughed, – though you had to be there. He also challenged the idea of Russians routinely hand-feeding bears, when either kept as pets or encountered in the wild.
Such situations are absurd, reckless, and potentially lethal, “promoted” by the rarest of internet videos and photographs that have been disseminated beyond reason. It’s as if one event viewed a million times somehow equates to one million evidential events – it doesn’t.
Element of truth
There is one curious factor that I had to point out however; that whenever those chance, wilderness encounters are captured on film; they (nearly) always feature a Russian as the benefactor!
Another Russian friend added a sobering thought to the “pet” bear scenario: that some of his countrymen have indeed attempted to keep and raise wild bears at home – only to be ultimately killed and eaten. And yes, some – the rarest of the rare – have perhaps even had the knowledge, ability to perform such a perilous undertaking successfully.
There are encounters though, whether accidental or otherwise. At the extreme edges of society, human civilisation encroaches upon bear territory, usually by accident, and these massive predators have been encountered.
This usually occurs when food is scarce and hunger drives bears further afield, or alternatively when humans have mistakenly made a meal especially easy to obtain.
When bears start to associate humans with food, though: bad things happen, usually (for reasons of human safety) resulting in the bear’s swift demise. “A fed bear is a dead bear,” as the American wildlife authorities state.
In town near you
You may expect to find the occasional wandering brown bear in Northern Russian cities such as Norilsk, similar locations in Arkhangelsk, Yakutia and Chukotka, or even polar bears visiting settlements on the icy arctic island of Novaya Zemlya. However, temperate zone settlements backed by forest habitat are also locations for unwanted and dangerous encounters.
The Siberian town of Tynda in the Amur region is a prime candidate for example. Surrounded by forest on all sides, it’s only a short hop for bears heading into town for a bite to eat or a change of scenery. They are usually “encouraged” back into the trees by local wildlife wardens, but unfortunately those fearless enough to encroach too deeply, may be shot.
There are a range of other interlopers too. We’ll look at a few next time.