Update from our Sweden bear volunteer project
This is Roland, the assistant expedition leader, taking over from Matthias after being shown the ropes and finding my feet.
It is day 6 of our Sweden bear conservation project and we have now settled into the rhythm of each day of brown bear conservation research. Each day proceeds with quiet confident efficiency. We get up early, gather our research tools, are given our tasks for the day by our chief scientist Dr Andrea, and set off in three teams armed with a list of locations to reach. We get as close as possible by vehicle along remote forest tracks and then it’s on foot after that, negotiating bogs, boulders, tree stumps, steep slopes and forests of varying degrees of impregnability to navigate our way to very specific locations. The location of a hibernation den is indicated by a constant, immovable GPS signal that a bear with a GPS collar left all last winter, unknowingly transmitting its co-ordinates – and usually a range of biometric data too – to Andrea via the mobile phone network. A cluster site is simply a place where the GPS data tell us that a bear has recently spent at least a few hours in one small area. Why? We enjoy the detective work needed to answer this question. It may be where the bear killed and ate a moose calf or simply lay down for a rest for a while – a hollow in the ground and flattened vegetation indicates such a ‘day bed’. Above all, a cluster site gives us the best chance of finding bear scat, which is prized by Andrea for its research value.
So our days are filled with the hunt for clusters and dens – and a myriad of other signs of bears in the landscape, all carefully documented according to Andrea’s research protocols. At the time of writing, we have located and surveyed 17 dens, recorded 23 day beds and bagged up 65 samples of bear scats: all in all a major contribution to the long-term brown bear research project. And we haven’t quite finished yet.
And along the way we have had daily encounters with wildlife: we have spotted owls, capercaillies, a glimpse of an eagle, a friendly fox and occasionally a moose or two wandering through the wetlands.
The final cluster site visited today by Team Christiane/Neil/Roland took little detective work to reveal why the tracked bear had spent five hours there. The massive decaying carcass of an adult moose lay unapologetically scattered in a hollow.
Today is our last day in the field. Half day, actually, because we will spend the other half entering the data we gathered into computers so that Andrea can analyse them – another piece of the puzzle of effective brown bear conservation in Sweden.