Wildlife Holiday News

Quest for Bengal Tigers & European Brown Bears

A customer travelled on our 'Finland - Just Brown Bears!' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Brown Bear

Naturetrek’s tours to India - Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and Finland - Just Brown Bears concentrated on two very different and charismatic animals, setting the trend for a Just So series, reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s stories. I really hoped to have more than just a few fleeting glances of the Bengal Tiger and the Brown Bear and was certainly not disappointed. Even if these particular animals were habituated to humans to some extent, their reputations preceded them. Both commanded great respect and glimpses of their large teeth and claws were proof enough of that!

At Bandhavgarh, Kipling’s The Jungle Book is particularly relevant. Consider Shere Khan the Tiger, Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Black Panther and the other characters which feature in this Indian story. Jim Corbett’s vivid accounts of man-eating Tigers and Leopards and his equally compelling stories about the Indian people and jungle lore also add authenticity to this jungle scene.

The warning calls of Chital deer and Langur monkeys immediately alerts everybody that a Bengal Tiger is approaching. When he appears, ‘burning bright’, as William Blake described, this time in the Sal forests or roaring as he proclaims his territory are never to be forgotten experiences. Photographs of the Tiger, in the shadows cast by our elephant, were a poignant reminder of some of our close encounters with this animal. Leopards, though not black, and a rich variety of other wildlife were also to be seen. One wonders whom amongst us Mowgli the Man-cub actually could be in this fascinating scenario!

Unfortunately a footprint was all I saw of the Sloth Bear, the real Baloo, but it was in Finland that I would be fully compensated with sightings of Brown Bears in the vast Taiga forests on the Russian border.

The tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, possibly originating in Scandinavia, did seem very relevant. One or two younger members on the tour could quite easily have been Goldilocks. We all seemed to claim particular chairs in the dining room and chose porridge for breakfast! Similarly in the hide we again had our own seats and also bunk beds. So many Bears were seen, including several males and females - large, small and in-between, all attracted to bait put down quite close to the hide (not porridge though)! Like Baloo, the Bears all appeared benevolent, that is until two large males fronted up or an anxious female chased off another which came too close to her cubs. Loud growling and a brief skirmish would follow until all, at the receiving end, made good their escape, with small cubs shinning up the nearest tree for safety. These belligerent antics were a reminder that the Brown Bear is very closely related to the North American Grizzly.

During daytime we were shown a Bear’s den at close quarters, now empty we were assured, a retreat which would have been covered by a metre of snow in winter. Not far away there were masses of ripening berries, an important part of the Bears’ late summer diet and ours too! Other Bear signs included paw prints in the mud, claw marks surprisingly high up on tree trunks, foraging activities, cooling-off places, droppings and tracks. We also spotted many Reindeer which made us think of the Laplanders and Father Christmas. Moose were much more elusive and only their particular hoof print characteristics confirmed their presence. The weather we encountered was so warm and sunny it was hard to imagine we were so close to the Arctic Circle.

My most unforgettable encounter though was in the hide when cameras had been abandoned and everybody, apart from myself, was asleep. The night-time visibility was very reasonable compared to the equivalent English scene. In the silence I felt completely alone, when unexpectedly and out of nowhere a female Bear with her three cubs came into view close to where I was. But they disappeared into the surrounding forest just as suddenly as they had appeared. Was this the time to say goodbye?

Soon we were all making tracks back to the centre, finally leaving the Bears to their own devices. The thoughts of breakfast were foremost now and it was not long before we were all sitting up at the table eating our porridge and reflecting on the great experience we had shared.

After farewells to our friendly Finnish hosts and guides we were on our way to the airport and home. It would soon be time to think seriously about going on another Naturetrek tour, such as Brazil - Just Jaguars! To see just one Jaguar would be very special but there would also be all those other South American species waiting for us too!

Read more about our 'Finland - Just Brown Bears!' holiday.