Photographing giant russian bears? Yes. In the wild? In close proximity? That too. In a beautiful, wild landscape? In one of the most magnificent and remotest places on Earth. How do we get there? By helicopter.
Barely one hectare of land. A few bungalows, small buildings and tents, and a small, barely electrified fence surround us. Anchored to the shore of a lovely lake with a slender-silhouetted volcano that seems to be protecting us. But, from whom?
According to the rules, I had to stay 30 feet away from the wire fence if they were present but, absorbed in my thoughts, I couldn’t have been farther than 9 feet. I could not imagine that he’d be there, a mere 3 or 6 feet away from this small 3-feet-high fence, behind that bungalow and among the foliage: a Kamchatka brown bear. He looked at me with a certain curiosity, fearlessly, while he sniffed the air and then, unperturbed, carried on eating grass. (Yes, bears also eat grass.) I found myself at Kurile Lake, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. A crater lake shaped like a caldera in the south of the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Siberia. Home to the largest concentration of Eurasian brown bears, which are attracted by the spawning sockeye salmon. The result: giant bears. With a length of 8 feet, 10 feet tall when standing on their back legs, they can weigh up to a staggering 1300 pounds. Almost the same size as their cousin, the Alaskan Kodiak bear (but with a larger skull), they are imposing.
Our hectare of land belongs to us; the rest of the South Kamchatka Sanctuary belongs to the bears. Only this small 3-feet-high, barely electrified fence separates us from them. Dangerous? Absolutely. Aggression is not a word found in their vocabulary, but our little cage next to the lake makes us privileged observers of the different events that occur in this secluded spot: games, fights and even chases that don’t look at all friendly between males and cubs are offered up, right in front of our eyes. All you need is a little patience and to always have your camera ready, without the zoom lens, of course. Sometimes you will be so close that their eyes will lock with the deepest part of your being, stirring ancestral moments that marked our parallel lives on Earth. The hours pass by quickly, with frequent appearances and with Ilyinsky Volcano as an imperturbable observer.
But if this is not enough for you, and your budget allows for it, you can also visit the rest of Kurile Lake and South Kamchatka Sanctuary. Of course, make sure you are always accompanied by the park’s armed guards. You can see these enormous mammals fishing for salmon and caring for their beloved offspring, all while you’re surrounded by magnificent volcanoes and a pristine landscape. Close-up encounters with bears occur organically here, given their high population density (approximately 200 specimens) and a lake that is barely 190,000 acres. There is a small wooden bridge structure that crosses one of the rivers near its mouth. This is one of the places where human beings and bears encounter one another.
At the thought of it, a couple of nice memories are stirred up. One is of a large bear that mounted the platform and calmly started walking towards us as if we didn’t exist. When he was about 30 meters away, he descended back down to the river to continue fishing for more salmon.
And another, more exciting one: a cub terrorized by a male “Casanova” (the name given to the enormous, 1,100-pound males that mate with the females) that was swimming towards it. It was so scared that it abandoned the calm waters next to its mother and tried to climb the little bridge a mere 30 feet away from us. What would have happened if the male had gotten even closer to the cub with the intention of attacking him? Undoubtedly, the mother would have protected her offspring, and all of this would have happened far too close to us. And because the rear part of the bridge was closed off, we would have been put in a compromising situation. The reaction was fast: a few aggressive shouts from our guard at the adorable little cub before he was able to climb the bridge. Of course, our “Casanova” opted to continue stuffing himself with juicy salmon rather than face a protective and cantankerous mother.
Nature always has an unwritten script and in this magical place, everybody can write their own adventures.
Keywords: Book, photos, Siberia, Russia, adventures escapes. Adventure travel. Guide book