A real-life Bear Hunt for Z-arts

In May this year Z-arts Chief Executive and Artistic Director embarked on a very real bear hunt, here is the story of her epic adventure!

In May this year I went to Slovakia, to the Tetra mountains, to go looking for bears.

Carpathian bears live high in the mountains in Slovakia.  They don’t recognise borders and wander across Poland, Slovakia and Russia.

This was a guided walking holiday that I had been planning for two years.  As the time grew nearer, the romantic idea of going on a bear hunt started to evaporate and instead I started to worry “What was I thinking of?!”  Going looking for bears?!  Going up big mountains?!  I started googling what to do if a bear attacks you, and that didn’t help.

So, it was with some trepidation that we landed in Slovakia and met up with David, our guide and the six other people who I was going to be sharing the adventure with.  Once we had had the briefing from David, our guide, I felt a bit more reassured.  Apparently no-one had been killed by a bear in that area in over 100 years, and mostly they just mooch about the mountain side eating grass and berries.

The weather forecast had been for thundery showers.  Just what you want when you’re half way up a mountain looking for bears I thought.  David said that the bears didn’t like storms so it might be hard to see them.  When the first real bear-stalking day arrived, it arrived with full sunshine.  “Oh it’s too hot for bears” said David.  We started to wonder just what weather would be right for seeing some bear action.  “Where do the bears go when it’s too hot?” I asked.  I was told they liked to shelter in the dwarf pines.

Slovakia 1

We set off anyway, with a big hike up to the top of one of the Tatra mountains, where you can cross the border into Poland on the ridge at the very top.  Early on, we saw our first evidence of bears.  Bear poo!  Or scat as the professional bear-trackers call it.  Here’s what it looks like.

Slovakia 2

Everyone was walking really fast and I was finding it hard to keep up. Another adventurer, Jenny, and I gave up trying to keep up, and decided we would be the rear guard and just go at our own pace.

Eventually we met David, who had stopped at a water pass. “I’ve sent the hot-footed speedy bunch on ahead” he said.  “I’ll stick with you guys now”.  Next thing I knew, I found myself ahead of David and Jenny, but still well behind the other speedy bunch at the front.  I was quite alone … and I was surrounded by dwarf pines, the very place David had told me that the bears like to hide if it’s too hot!  What should I do?  I wasn’t quick enough to catch up the people ahead, and there was no sign behind me of David and Jenny.  If I waited for them, I was potentially a sitting duck and easy for a bear to stumble upon me accidentally.  I decided the best action was just to keep going, listening to all kinds of strange rustlings as I went.  You can imagine my relief when I got to the top and met up with the others.  Everyone had a good laugh when I told them my story and that I’d been scared I might be eaten by a bear.  “Happy, but prepared to die” I said. “There are no bears this high up” said David. “That’s why I let the others go on ahead.” He just hadn’t bothered telling me!

The next day we left the lodge at 4am to meet up with Roman the bear ranger, and go off the tourist trail to the ‘Baer Bowl’ in search of bears.  We had to be really quiet as we walked, so as not to disturb any of the wildlife. It was amazing being on top of a mountain as the sun came up.  We saw more evidence of bears, more bear scat and now signs of bears scratching posts, but although we walked for eight hours, we still didn’t see any bears.

Slovakia 3

We went back to the lodge, a bit down hearted although we’d had a lovely walk, and had a well-earned rest.  Then we were back out again at 4pm for another 5 hours walking. I felt sure that this time we would see a real bear, and I was right!  Roman the ranger was scouring the hillside when he suddenly pointed at a dot in the distance.  Yes, it was moving! We all quickly got our binoculars out and were rewarded by our first bear. A lovely beast with a pale face, just padding along the hillside, munching on the grass.  We followed it, from a safe distance, for about an hour.  It was very special.

The next morning we were out at 4am again, this time heading to the Silent Valley. This time we were incredibly lucky.  We saw bear paw prints, some 30cm long and 20 cm wide, and spent an hour walking along the same tracks the bears had walked just hours before.

Here’s a bear paw print.  Can you work it out?

Slovakia 5

We saw five different bears, some chamoix (rare mountain goats), a golden eagle and some red deer.  The best moment was when we were sat on a hillside eating our well-earned breakfast, watching a bear walking and snuffling along the opposite hillside. It was the closest view we had, and everyone’s favourite bear. David said it was probably a female.  Roman the bear ranger said he’d met her on a path with her cub the previous year, and ‘had an incident’.  He had been chased by her, because she had her cub with her, but she stopped chasing when he ran away.


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