Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lions and Tigers and...well....mostly bears...OH MY!!!

Last year at this same time, my boss told me about the possibility of going with him and this biologist friend of his down to track bears in Southeastern Utah. But when it came down to it, there wasn't room for me after he decided to take all of his boy scouts instead. I was bummed to say the least. But this year, he had the same chance to go again and made sure that there was a place for me. No scouts this time. Yeah!!!
So today I woke up at about 5AM so that I could get myself ready to meet Rich (my boss) at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon by around 6. My wife worked last night and, since she wouldn't be off until 6AM, she was kind enough to let me drop Jericho off at the ER for the remainder of her shift. So nice to have such a wonderful wife and so glad that dropping Jericho off at the ER is cool with everyone else.
Anyway, I met my boss and we drove about 3 1/2 hours to an area called the Book Cliffs. I sort of had the idea that it was just me and Rich going with Doc Black (the head biologist). When we arrived at the meeting point, there were about 100 other people. No; literally about a hundred other people. I was a little disappointed at first, hoping that I was in for a more intimate encounter with nature and wildlife, but after this experience I am grinning ear to ear.
The bear we tracked--by radio collar--was a 24 year old sow. (Black bears have a life expectancy of around 25 years--and this one is still having babies). She has been tracked for many years and was once thought to be a bum mom, never successfully rearing her cubs past the first year. Instead, most of her cubs starved. Anyway, in her sunset years, she has had 2 sets of triplets and had just a single female cub this year. I was sort of hoping for a nice hike but this bear was found only 1/4 mile from the road. As you can imagine, having a 100 people there, of all ages, was a recipe for chaos. Doc Black and his students kept stressing the importance of being quiet and not doing anything that might frighten or alarm the sow or the cub. But a crowd will be a crowd, and it was a bit like the lines for the rides at DisneyLand. We were kept back at the road until the grad students had successfully tranquilized the sow. Then we were told, "OK, now talk in your church voices and we're just going to SLOWLY meander on over to the den; no need to run or get into a hurry." I was immediately taken back to my days as a tour bus driver in Alaska when I'd tell people to, "Be quiet." "Don't run." "Don't feed/touch the animals." This crowd of 100 eager bear lookers moved like an army of hungry ants on their way to devour the day's unlucky victim. I pretty much saw it coming.
Well, when I finally got my turn at the den, I was thrilled to sit down by that magnificent animal. How amazing to think that this stealthy bear has made it 24 years in this area known for some of the most prize hunting in Utah. And here she was, raising another cub, one that will, hopefully, go on to raise her own for years to come. The photo opportunity at this point was over quickly. Once everyone had taken their turns, most everyone took off back to the road and their vehicles. Rich and I stayed behind, watching Doc Black as some BYU students interviewed him on camera. The biology students had pulled the sow back into her den by now, and had placed her cub with her again. And then, to my astonishment, they told us we could crawl back into the den and take pictures in there, since the sedation hadn't yet worn off. "Are you serious?!?!, I asked." And they said it was OK. So we crawled in their on our stomachs, with our cameras and got within about 3 feet of her head to snap some amazing shots. (Funny thing, apparently my new camera's setting was on too large a file size so the pics I've posted were all that will fit here). I'll post everything on facebook.
Anyway, this was such an amazing experience. Those of you who know me well enough, know that I LOVE wildlife, especially seeing it alive. (Not so big on killing things so I can look at the carcass on my walls). I really hope this will turn into something I can do a few more times in the future.


Johnsons said...

What an awesome experience Wade!! Not very many people could say they climbed in a bear den with a bear. I don't think I would have dared go in there, even though she was sedated. I am a chicken. Was the cub sedated too? Glad you got to have the fun experience.

Wade The Rascal said...

Nah. They didn't sedate the little cub. She was a little nervous--mostly because of the sheer number of people there. But the girl holding her in the picture kept her warm and sufficiently calm the whole time. (Also, not much a 4lb. bear could do to you). It was awesome; something I'll forever remember.

Kari said...

Such a cool experience! I've always wanted to be Jane Goodall, you had sort of of a bear version of my life long dream. Too bad you had to share it with 100 other people, but I'm glad you still enjoyed the experience. Much more exciting than the things I have to blog about :)

Kari said...

FYI - There is a free program you can download online called InfanView that we use at work to resize pictures so that they post better online. It's really easy to use.