One of the main reasons Kodiak bears grow so much larger than inland grizzly bears is due to the abundance of food on Kodiak. Not only can bears feast on protein-rich salmon in the summer, but the archipelago is loaded with nutritious vegetation and sugar-packed berries. A brown bear’s jaws have powerful muscles and teeth that have evolved to adapt to an omnivorous diet of both plants and animals. Kodiak bears are opportunistic feeders. They eat roots, berries, grasses, sedges, wildflowers, wild celery, and other plants, as well as rodents, insects, large mammals (including deer and mountain goats), fish, carrion, and yes, unfortunately, garbage and pet food.
Bears’ stomachs contract during hibernation, and when they first leave their dens, they aren’t hungry. They eat little at first, concentrating on emerging plants and their roots. As the spring progresses, Kodiak bears can be seen feeding in grassy meadows and look much like grazing cattle. Their diet switches to salmon in the summer months, when they chase and catch fish in shallow streams or on the tidal flats near the heads of the deep, narrow bays on Kodiak. Bears also consume dead salmon that have washed up on shore. When the salmonberries, elderberries, crowberries, blueberries and other berries begin to ripen on Kodiak in late July and August, most bears spend at least part of their day in berry thickets, pulling the berries from the bushes with their lips and mouths. Salmon provide bears with fat and protein, and berries are high in natural sugars, all of which are important for building up a fat reserve for hibernation. As fall progresses, bears increase their consumption of salmon and berries as they strive to build up their fat layer before entering the den for hibernation. A diet rich in berries has its downside, though. Bears are one of the few wild animals susceptible to tooth decay. Abscessed teeth are not uncommon, and rotten teeth may affect the bear’s ability to eat and may even lead to starvation.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of bear viewing is watching a bear chase and catch a salmon. Sows teach their cubs how to fish and will often corral a salmon toward the cub in shallow water and then encourage the cub to chase the fish. A sow with newborn cubs that are still nursing will only allow her cubs to eat a small part of her catch after she has had her fill because she needs the extra protein to produce the milk to nurse her cubs, and the cubs are receiving most of their nutrition from her. As the cubs age, they nurse less, and the sow shares more of her catch with them. Finally, when they are old enough, she encourages them to fish on their own, and by the time the cubs are two years old, they can usually chase and catch a few salmon without the help of their mother.
Fishing is a skill bears learn with much practice over time, so young bears are often clumsy fishermen. A sub-adult bear may gallop back and forth in a stream for thirty minutes without successfully landing a salmon, while an older bear walks slowly downstream and pounces on a passing salmon with little effort. A bear may also develop his own unique fishing technique. One bear may sit on a fallen log hanging low over a stream and attempt to grab fish as they swim past. A second bear may “submarine” by dunking his head under water to watch for fish, and a third may obtain his fish by chasing another bear and stealing that bear’s catch.
ike and I just returned home after six weeks on the road. We had a great vacation, but as always, I am happy to be home, despite the cold weather and frozen waterline.
Spring is still two months away in this area of the world, and we’ve had a tough winter here. After several mild winters, the black-tailed deer population on the island had exploded, but many deer did not survive the freezing temperatures this winter. I haven’t had a chance to go hiking yet to see with my own eyes how bad the winter kill was, but I’ve heard it was bad. The cycling of deer populations is normal, of course, and the deer population here will recover, but I find it difficult to watch animals starve to death and die from exposure.
I was thrilled to get a dose of sunshine and heat on our vacation. We went sailing with friends in the British Virgin Islands, and then Mike and I traveled further south to Bonaire where we snorkeled and dived and enjoyed wearing fewer layers of clothes than normal. Besides spending time with friends, the best part of the vacation for me was that I could snorkel nearly every day. I studied marine and fisheries biology in college, and I have always been fascinated by the underwater world. I could float above a coral reef all day long, watching the interactions between the fish and marine invertebrates in that busy community. The area surrounding Bonaire is a protected marine park, so the coral is healthy, and the tropical fish thrive. I would grab my mask and fins, jump off the dock at our hotel, and instantly be immersed in a gorgeous, underwater world. Getting to Bonaire was not easy, but it was well worth the hassle to enjoy that little piece of paradise.
During the many, long plane rides and mornings on the sailboat on our trip, I had time to edit the manuscript of my latest novel. With each pass, I am polishing it into the story I want it to be. I think most authors would tell you editing is the least fun part of the writing process, but editing is necessary and can’t be avoided. In addition to questioning every comma and semicolon and trying to remember whether a character’s eyes are blue or brown, I worry that the plot moves forward in a logical progression. Will the reader be surprised or disappointed? Are the characters believable? Have I provided enough description or too much description? My working manuscript is long, so I’m concerned I need to cut some scenes. Luckily, I will get help answering these questions. Once I have the manuscript as perfect as I can make it, I will send it to a professional editor who will look at it line by line and then step back and consider the manuscript as a whole. A few friends have also volunteered to read the manuscript, and my publisher will read through it and give me his thoughts.
I also want to ask for your help with my manuscript. In a few weeks, I will post a few excerpts from the book, and I encourage you to let me know what you think, good or bad. I would much rather have the feedback now than read it in a review on Amazon once the book has been published!
Finally, I have a gift for my blog readers. Click on the cover of my book below and receive a free coupon for an e-book of my novel, Murder Over Kodiak. When you click on the link you will be taken to a site provided by my publisher, and you will need to register to download the book, but there is no catch. The book is yours free!
As many of you know, I write a monthly newsletter about crime and mysteries in Alaska. I think of spring as the start of the new season for my newsletter, and I have several interesting topics I plan to cover over the next months. My newsletters are free, and you can always unsubscribe if they aren’t for you. If you think you would be interested in my newsletters, you can sign up here.
A Kodiak bear’s coat may range from dark brown to nearly blonde. Bears are typically darker in the fall when they begin growing their winter coat, and older bears are often darker than younger bears, but these are just generalizations. One cub from a litter may be light, while his brother is dark brown.
Cubs often have a natal collar, a white band around the neck and shoulder. Some cubs have no natal collar, and others have a collar that is bright and distinct. This band gradually fades over time, and it has usually disappeared by the age of three, but occasionally, you will see a four-or-five-year-old bear that still has remnants of a collar.
A bear’s fur is an excellent insulator. It is dense and oily, keeping the bear warm and preventing water from penetrating. The fur consists of two types of hair, the “guard hair” and the “under-fur.” Bears shed both the guard hair and underfur annually. In the summer, Kodiak bears often appear shaggy and matted. The bear in the photo below looks as if she is sporting dreadlocks. To help remove their fur, bears rub against trees and rocks, often standing on their hind legs, backing up to a tree and rubbing up and down. It is humorous to watch a bear “scratch his back” in this manner. While the old coat is shedding, a new coat is growing, and by September on Kodiak, most bears appear darker in color and well-groomed. The old, loose fur is gone, and only the new fur remains.
Brown bears have non-retractable claws up to four-inches long. The claws of young bears are typically dark brown and then lighten with age. Although some young bears have light-colored claws, beautiful, pearly-white claws are usually seen on an old sow or boar. Look at the photos and notice the difference in claw coloration between the sub-adult bear and the old sow.
Brown bears use their claws to defend themselves and fight with other bears, but Kodiak bears primarily use their claws to dig for roots and other food and gripping food. Even though their claws look large and clumsy to us, they are quite dexterous and capable of manipulating small objects. Kodiak cubs use their claws to climb trees, but adult brown bears are poor climbers due to their body weight and the structure of their claws. It is not uncommon to see a sow send her small cubs up a tree if she senses danger, and they stay in the tree until she vocalizes the signal that it is safe for them to come down.
Bears, like all animals, depend on their senses to survive. They use their senses for many things, but especially to find food and detect possible threats. A bear’s sense of smell is its most important sense. A brown bear’s sense of smell is three to four times more sensitive than that of an average dog, and it is difficult for humans with our relatively poor sense of smell to comprehend what this means and how much a bear depends on this sense. A bear uses his nose to find food, locate a mate, and avoid danger. A bear downwind from you may smell your presence and run from you while you are still several hundred yards away from him.
A bear’s second most important sense is hearing. Brown bears have relatively small ears, but they can detect noises at a great distance. A bear can hear the click of a camera shutter over the sound of the wind, crashing waves, or a swiftly running river.
For a long time, biologists believed bears had poor eyesight, but scientific research has shown a bear’s eyesight is similar to that of a human’s. Bears are not nearsighted as was once believed, and they can see colors. Brown bears often stand on their hind legs to increase their sight distance and get a better look at an object. It is not a sign of aggression when a bear stands on its hind legs; the bear is just trying to gain more sensory input.
The important thing to remember is a bear does not use each one of these senses independent of the others. If a bear sees something unfamiliar in the distance, such as a person, a boat, or even another bear, he may stand on his hind legs to get a better look, raise his nose to attempt to smell the interloper, and pick up his ears to try to ascertain unfamiliar sounds. If he still cannot determine what the object is, he may approach it for a closer look or circle downwind from the object so that he can smell it better.
Next week, I’ll write about a bear’s fur and claws. Does a bear’s fur change with age? Why are some Kodiak bears blonde and others a chocolate-colored? What is the white ring some cubs have around their neck? How do the claws change with age?
If you haven’t signed up yet for my free monthly newsletter, don’t wait. You won’t want to miss this month’s newsletter about crime and justice during the Alaska Gold Rush written by Alaska historian and author Steven Levi.
Summer Friends at Amook Pass is a post by my friend, Marcia Messier. I love this humorous story about her animal encounters while she worked for us at Munsey’s Bear Camp. What Marcia doesn’t tell you in this piece is that I named our goat visitor Marcie because the goat’s daring trip each summer from the mountains to the ocean, reminded me of Marcia’s adventurous spirit. Prepare to smile as you read about Marcia’s adventures!
During the summer months at Amook Pass, the animals were my friends. That sounds a bit corny, but they were amusing, startling, and comforting, all that friends should be. I looked forward and anticipated who might stop by for a visit during my busy days.
I was privileged to know Gizzy, Fletcher, Elsie, and Olive during my summers at Munsey’s Bear Camp. They were my very best animal friends. I thought it was interesting that Gizzy and Olive had similar personalities as did Fletcher and Elsie; even though, they had never met. Gizzy and Olive were the sweet ladies, soft-spoken, polite, accommodating for a photo, well groomed, and perhaps just a little bit shy of visitors. Fletcher and Elsie, on the other hand, were true wilderness cats. Fletcher was getting along in years when I first met him, but he told me many a hair-raising tale about his hunting skills as a younger gentleman. Elsie was in her prime, and she loved to stalk bears for days on end. Many a time as Robin and I were mourning her early demise, we would hear Mike yell, “Elsie’s back!”, and there she would be, dragging herself through the door, ragged, dirty and ravenously hungry after her latest adventure.
Fletcher and Elsie loved to hunt voles, the tiny mouse-like creatures close to the bottom of the Kodiak food chain. They must be a very tasty snack because twice daily I’d find their tiny blue and green left-over parts deposited on the front door step. I used to tell myself they were loving gifts, but then again, whoever left the pieces always seemed slightly amused when I reached down to pluck the bits off the doorstep while making slight gagging sounds.
Freddie the Weasel became a daily late-afternoon house guest. Maybe the sound of the old generator starting up interrupted his afternoon nap. He’d shoot in the backdoor, zip through the kitchen and take cover under the couch in the living room to watch and learn about life in the big house. At first, I jumped and shrieked thinking he must be some kind of Kodiak rat, but later in the day, Robin calmly explained about weasels.
Gizzy and Fletcher were still with us then but getting along in years. They knew their limitations, so they decided to pretend Freddie was just a figment of my over-active imagination. Not wanting to insult them, I went along with the game and soon we all looked forward to Freddie’s daily antics. I knew when he heard the boat motoring up to the mooring; I would see the tail end of Freddie flip out the front door.
Early in the summer season, the female Sitka deer would bring their fawns into the yard to nibble the bright green salad-like greens growing around the cabins. Sometimes there would be twins, and I would think happy thoughts as I watched them through the kitchen window while preparing breakfast.
One day I came nose to nose with a deer! I was hurrying to the cabin with a load of fresh laundry, and we met coming around the corner at the same instant. We were both startled and just stared dumbfounded into each other’s eyes for a moment. I’m not sure who moved first, but a hunter later told me I was lucky it hadn’t given me a good kick in the shins before it bolted off! I guess that happens, but ours was a peaceful meeting, and I will forever remember that instant.
I live in Arizona, so the first time I saw a fox on the pathway, I excitedly reported to Mike I had seen a coyote in the yard that day. Laughing, he looked at me like I was nuts and said, “There are no coyotes on Kodiak Island!”. I felt a little foolish but still maintain at a distance, a big healthy Kodiak fox looks very much like a thin Arizona coyote in the summertime!
I’ve seen Bald Eagles before, but in Arizona, they are a special sighting. On Kodiak, they are commonplace, and I was thrilled to see a nesting pair close to camp. On my mid-day break, if the weather was good, I’d sit in a lawn chair facing the bay and watch the eagles fish. It was entertaining; an eagle would fly over the water and scope out a fish, and then in an amazing feet-first dive, catch the fish in its talons. After this, it was usually impossible to get airborne once again, so it had to row itself and the fish, still clutched in its talons, ashore with its wings. There, after expending so much energy, it would devour the fish and do it all over again.
More than once, on a nice day, while taking a siesta in the hammock, enjoying the warm sun on my face, I’d hear and feel the strong wing beats of a very large bird flying close over me, and I’d know I had been checked out by a Bald Eagle!
Some of you may have read my “Encounter” with a bear. I was walking along the path up to the guest cottage one afternoon, my mind far away, when I heard a “horse” snort. The sound brought me back to the present in a flash, and I must say, I have never confused the sound of a bear with that of a horse again!
A secret I’d like to reveal is Mike used to make a bear playground out of old red mooring buoys a distance up behind the generator shed. I heard him and Robin laughing once about how much fun the bears had rolling, tossing and chewing these old red buoys. I never did venture up past the generator shed and burn barrel. Wearing a red jacket, I didn’t want the bears to make a mistake. I did wonder if mother bears warned their cubs, “never go near that playground as there is a dangerous human there who makes frightening loud, smoky blasts come out of the shed and soon after makes fire leap high into the sky out of a barrel!” Thinking back, I was probably quite safe.
Marcie was my favorite yard animal. One warm July day, we spotted a solitary mountain goat strolling along the beach near camp. Mike and Robin reported this was indeed a rare sighting. We couldn’t help ourselves, Robin christened her Marcie, and we began to speculate about her life and why she was here on our beach. She was a rebel. Marcie was tired of billies, she had too many youngsters to raise, and the constant stress of all those steep icy mountain ledges was wearing her down. Maybe she had arthritis in her knees. Maybe she just wanted a vacation at the beach! We happily welcomed her, and for a number of years, she would appear for her annual July vacation at Munsey’s Bear Camp. One year she didn’t arrive. We looked and looked, but no Marcie. Right away we decided, instead of feeling sad, we would celebrate her life. We had a toast to Marcie, how brave she was to break away from the herd and dare to be different!
The sea otter is a zen-like sight floating on its back, paws pressed together as if in meditation pose. It’s a sweet maternal picture with mom floating on her back and a tiny baby resting on her belly. And how clever of them to use tools! They often are observed with a rock balanced on their belly, happily cracking open clams for lunch. Brilliant!
At Munsey’s Bear Camp, I often saw sea otters floating in the cove in front of the lodge, and the sea otters kept to themselves. Their cousins the river otters, however, were a different matter. A family of river otters took up residence under the dock. This dock was now their home, and no one else was welcome. The dock became their dining room and their toilet. A mop had to be stationed on the dock so that the horrid stinky mess could be swabbed away. The mop could also be used as a defensive tool.
With guests arriving and departing from the dock every five days, caution had to be observed. One day stands out in my mind. It was a beautiful, sunny Kodiak day, and we were all on deck welcoming new guests. As they were embarking from the float plane and luggage was being handed down, I took a step back and slid on an unseen mound of otter poo. I wanted to vaporize as I fell on my backside in an ungraceful plop! Afterward, we laughed about this incident, but I never forgot, and every time I saw a sweet little otter posing for pictures, I saw two little horns poking up through the top of its head.
I grew up near Cape Cod where everyone loved to fish. I didn’t. To me, the whole process from baiting the hook, to dragging the poor thing out of its natural habitat with a hook in its mouth, to butchering it, to stinking up the house with fried fish was cruel and disgusting. Fast forward 40 years and I’m a cook in a fishing camp. I politely listened and smiled at all the fish stories and quietly cooked the fish, wondering what all the commotion was about. One day my perception changed. Robin and Mike asked me if I’d like to go out on the boat with them for the day. We had only one guest, and it was a great day to get out of the house. Yes, I wanted to go! Like a good sport, I purchased my fishing license, and away we went. Mike anchored in a pretty cove, and as I sat down in the deck chair ready to enjoy the sunshine, Robin stuck a baited pole in my hands and showed me where to drop the line. Still not paying much attention, suddenly the pole was nearly yanked out of my hands, and the line was whizzing off the reel. “What’s going on?”, I hollered. Robin and Mike replied, “You’ve caught a fish.” They proceeded to give me instructions. Suddenly, the scenario was hilarious, like an old re-run of “I Love Lucy.” I couldn’t stop laughing which in turn made my arms weak and unable to reel in the line. In a second, Robin strapped a belt-like thing around me to support the fishing pole so that I could reel. Now we are all laughing hard, but with perseverance and aching arms, the fish finally emerged from the deep. I was leaned over the rail gasping in amazement at “my halibut” when all of sudden, Mike, with an expert jerk of his pliers, freed my fish from the hook and off it swam! Hey! At that moment I was totally conflicted. On the one hand, I proudly wanted to bring my halibut home for supper, but on the other, I wished it well and was happy it was able to live another day in Uyak Bay.
Our summer wildlife-viewing and sport-fishing trips ended three days ago. It was time for them to end because summer is over here on Kodiak Island, and a fall storm broadsided us with our last group of bear viewers. They were good sports as we fought through the wind and rain to watch bears. The bears didn’t seem to mind the weather and put on a fantastic show, and while our guests loved watching sows chase salmon while their cubs played, we were all very wet by the end of the day. I love our September bear-watching trips, but I am tired of fighting boats in the wind, and I admit I am ready for a break. It is time to let my bruises heal and curl up with a blanket on a rainy, windy day instead of pulling on my foul-weather gear and heading out on a boat.
We had a great season this year. No two days of our summer trips are ever the same, and every minute is as much of an adventure for us as it is for our guests. In July, we enjoyed great salmon fishing, and halibut fishing was good most of the summer. We saw bears in July, but they weren’t concentrated in any one place. As the summer progressed, the bear viewing steadily improved, and by September, we enjoyed phenomenal bear viewing every day. We watched several sets of sows and cubs this summer, and while our guests crouched behind fallen trees on a riverbank, they were thrilled by bears that fished only a few feet from them. They were so close; they could hear bones snap when a bear bit into a salmon.
We saw whales nearly every day of our summer season. Huge fin whales surfaced beside our boat, while humpbacks raised their flukes in the air. We saw killer whales a few times, and once, they swam over to us when we were in our 19-foot whaler, jumping beside the boat and playing in our wake. We saw dozens of sea otters and countless bald eagles every day, and we watched Sitka black-tailed deer prance along the beach while red foxes dug for clams.
On the sport-fishing front, our guests caught 17 halibut over 40 lbs. (that’s what it takes to make the Munsey’s Bear Camp halibut club) and many more halibut between 20 and 40 lbs. The largest halibut of the summer weighed 128 lbs. We enjoyed great pink salmon fishing in July, but we had a poor silver salmon run.
As always, we had guests from around the world, and we shared many laughs on ouradventures with them. Summer always seems to fly by too quickly. Sure, by mid-September I’m tired, but come next June, I’ll be excited for our summer season to begin again.
Visit our Munsey’s Bear Camp website for more information about our summer trips. If you haven’t signed up for my free Mystery Newsletter yet, head over to my home page and do that now. My newsletters chronicle true crime stories from Alaska.
The Fishermen is another story by Marcia Messier, who cooked for many years at our lodge. This story, as well as the other stories of hers I have posted, will all be part of our cookbook, Tales from the Kitchen at Munsey’s Bear Camp. I love this story, The Fishermen, and I think it is remarkable that Marcia captured the essence of what it is like to spend a day on a boat with a group of sport fishermen. Marcia was always busy in the kitchen and never went out with us on our fishing trips, but between listening to the fishermen spar as they sat around the dinner table and listening to Mike and I as we told her our tales of the day, she pictured our fishing days perfectly and describes it beautifully here.
by Marcia Messier
It’s not just about bears at Munsey’s Bear Camp. Some guests are passionate about fishing, only fishing! They don’t want to waste valuable time looking at bears. They aren’t interested in photographing the majestic mountains rising straight up out of the bay. They couldn’t care less as Bald Eagles swoop down over their heads. From the moment they excitedly pile out of the float plane, they are in a race to see who can lower their fishing line into the water first. All stare into the mesmerizing deep blue water anticipating the first tug on the pole, and then, “ZIP, ZING, WHIZ,” the sound of fishing line flies off the reel. Ah, the sweet music of Uyak Bay!
Each fisherman has his favorite spot to fish on the deck of the Mary Beth, and they closely guard these spots. Stories are told of how Robin and Mike occasionally suggest different positions for the fishermen when tempers flare, lines tangle, and “the big one” is lost. The arguments are in good fun, though, and they are part of the game plan as Robin and Mike quickly re-bait hooks and make gleeful observations and proclamations to keep the fires of competition burning.
Fish is what the fishermen want to eat. Halibut salad sandwiches for lunch, or maybe freshly caught, grilled fish on a nearby beach. For dinner, halibut and salmon, baked, grilled, or fried is the popular expectation. If dinner is running a little late, homemade, smoked salmon dip with crackers is put out, pleasing everyone and successfully buying the cook a little extra time. Occasionally, even the breakfast menu includes lightly fried fish fillets.
Along with meals come the fish stories. Descriptive techniques on how to successfully land a 100-lb. halibut are robustly and expertly discussed as well as the reasons these techniques sometimes fail, probably hampered by the swing of the boat or your neighbor’s lack of line control. Imaginative and complicated contests are mandatory and are made up daily. These involve specific fishing holes Mike might have in mind; the size of the fish caught, lost, or thrown back; and the time limits involved in all these maneuvers. Everyone has many opportunities to win! At the end of the day, there are many tales about the one that got away, maybe a mermaid sighting, and always laughter as the tired fisherman make their way to the cabins.
At the end of their fishing trip, as we are pushing and shoving boxes full of fresh fish into the float plane, I’m certain I can detect a faint line of bright silver fish scales creeping out from under the collars and cuffs of our fishermen.
This past Memorial Day, my cousin and his wife, Mike and Mary Kohr, drove from their home in Minnesota to Marshfield, Wisconsin to visit Munsey and Boda at the Wildwood Zoo. Those of you have been following my blog know that Munsey and Boda are two of the three bear cubs we helped rescue last spring after their mother was shot by a hunter. If you haven’t read these posts, follow these links to read the first one and the second one.
We were thrilled that Mike and Mary planned a trip to see the bears. We had seen recent photos of the cubs and knew they were thriving, but from the photos, we only caught glimpses of the bear enclosure at the zoo. Mike promised to take photos and videos of the enclosure and to send them to us. The thumb drive with the photos and videos arrived a few days ago, along with a special treat: The Marshfield, Wisconsin Visitor’s Guide. Guess whose photos are splashed across the cover of the visitor’s guide? That’s right! Two spunky, healthy Kodiak Bear cubs dominate the visitor’s guide. Not only are their photos on the cover, but the guide has a nice, long article about the cubs and how they came to call the Wildwood Zoo home.
Mike and Mary’s photos and videos provided us with great views of the bear enclosure. This enclosure was completed just before the bears were transferred to the zoo, and it is spacious and beautiful. The Wildwood Zoo is not a large zoo, and the bear enclosure is the centerpiece of the facility. The enclosure cost 1.3 million dollars to build. Designers took an existing 1,200 square-foot outdoor exhibit and expanded it by adding 4,600 square feet. This enclosure includes a one-acre wooded area called the “Bear Woods,” and an enclosed bridge that spans 65 feet connects the woods to the primary exhibit area. Additional pools with recirculating water were added to the exhibit, and state-of-the-art containment and care facilities were added to the existing den building. The bridge joining the woods and the primary exhibit area is usually left open, allowing the bears to wander back and forth, but the bridge can be closed if the staff needs to isolate the bears from each other for some reason.
Here is what Mike Kohr had to say about Marshfield and the Wildwood Zoo: “Marshfield, Wisconsin is a small rural town of about 20,000 people. The Wildwood Park and Zoo complex is small but well maintained and seems to be very popular. The zoo itself is small and does not charge admission. It has mostly birds and a few mammals. However, the Kodiak Bear complex/exhibit is spectacular by any standard. I love zoos and have been to many around the world. Munsey and Boda are in a great place that rivals any bear exhibit I have seen.”
Mike said that wherever he and Mary went in Marshfield, people asked them if they had seen the bears. Munsey and Boda truly are the stars of not only the zoo but the entire town. For two little bears that nearly died from dehydration and hunger on a Kodiak mountainside, life at the Wildwood Zoo is very sweet.
Thank you, Mike and Mary for visiting the zoo and sharing your photos, videos, and observations with us. The Marshfield Visitor’s Guide is a treat that we will share with our guests. If any of you are in Wisconsin in the near future, take a little extra time and swing by the Wildwood Zoo to say hi to Munsey and Boda. E-mail your photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will share them on my blog!
Thanks to everyone who came to my Facebook Book Launch party and/or stopped by the Book Launch page on my website. Laura Nelson was the winner of the raffle for the $25 gift card on my website, so congratulations, Laura, and thank you to everyone who entered.
To understand how strong a Kodiak bear is, you only need to observe one effortlessly running up a steep slope, quickly digging a den out of the side of a mountain, or easily flipping huge boulders weighing several hundred pounds. Kodiak bears have a heavy skeleton and a thick layer of muscles. The hump on their backs is a mass of muscles that aids in their ability to dig and provides a powerful striking force with their forepaws.
Brown bears have a shuffling, lumbering walk. They are flat-footed and pigeon-toed, and they walk with both legs on one side moving together. Their paws strike the ground in the following sequence: Right forepaw then left hind paw then left forepaw followed by the right hind paw. When walking at a fast pace, the hind paw is often placed well in front of the forepaw track.
Brown bears can run very fast over a short distance and have been clocked at 35 to 40 mph (56 to 64 kph). Even over a long distance, they can quickly cover a great deal of ground and climb steep banks with ease.
Many of our guests are surprised to learn that Kodiak bears can swim, but brown bears are excellent swimmers and can swim for a mile or two to cross a bay or lake. A brown bear swims with his body below the water and his head and nose slightly above the waterline. Although bears are strong swimmers, they seem ill-at-ease and vulnerable when swimming, and when approached by a boat, a bear may give up his plan to swim across the bay and return to the shore he just left, even if he is closer to the opposite shore. On sunny summer days, it is common to see Kodiak bears lying in water or splashing in the ocean to cool themselves, and some bears while even dive underwater to catch salmon. Snorkeling is a funny fishing technique employed by a few bears where the bear walks through chest-deep water and submerges his head to look for fish.
I never grow tired of watching bears. Sometimes they amuse me when I watch the interactions between a sow and her cubs, and other times I get caught up in the drama when two bears square off against each other. I am always amazed, though, by their tremendous strength and their ability to cover a great deal of distance in the blink of an eye. The combination of these two characteristics makes them the rulers of their domain.
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You don’t have to spend much time watching Kodiak bears to realize how intelligent they are. Some researchers consider bears to be as intelligent as primates, and others believe a bear is as smart as a dog. Intelligence is difficult to measure, though, and to compare the intelligence of bears to that of other animals is a guessing game. It is clear that bears learn quickly and remember what they learn, and unfortunately, this can be to the bear’s detriment if he learns to associate food with humans. Bears can adapt to environmental changes or unique situations, and they will remember what they learned from a single situation or experience.
Bears are only able to make a limited range of sounds, and they do not have the necessary muscles for facial expressions. They can’t curl a lip like dogs do, and their small ears don’t allow the expressive maneuvers of cats, but bears do communicate with each other by posturing, attitude, and vocalization. A sow may send her cubs up a tree with a woofing sound or call them to her side by popping her jaws. Many bear vocalizations sound alike to a human’s ears, but bears can differentiate the sounds and understand what they mean.
We often hear bears growl while fishing near each other, and sows frequently growl at their cubs to reprimand them. A loud roar is a much more serious vocalization than a growl, and a grunt or a woofing noise often signifies a distressed or upset bear. A bear will grunt or woof at us if he is surprised by our presence, and this vocalization sometimes precedes a lunge or a false charge. The message delivered by a vocalization has as much to do with the message giver as it does with the vocalization. A large boar needs only to stomp his feet or issue a sharp “woof,” and smaller bears flee his presence. Those same actions and vocalizations delivered by a sub-adult bear likely would go unnoticed.
Bears communicate with humans just as they do with other bears, and understanding their language or choosing a guide who understands their language is important if you plan to spend time in the wilderness in bear country. Correctly interpreting vocal signals as well as body language and posturing may alert you to back away from a stressed or agitated bear.
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