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Gary Striker

Poaching and over-fishing threaten Kamchatka's bears.

The brown bears of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula are among the largest of the world’s brown bears. Their attractiveness to trophy hunters, a great demand for their body parts among practitioners of traditional Asian medicine and increased access to remote areas of Kamchatka have all contributed to a precipitous decline in the bears population since the 1960’s. According to current estimates, the region’s population of brown bears is being poached at an unsustainable rate of 20% each year.

Brown bears have gorged on thick pump salmon in a remote wilderness in Russia for ages. But poachers could take away the halcyon days of these giants. The greatest dilemma bears in the South Kamchatka Sanctuary used to face was choosing where to dine. They move from waterway to waterway, fishing each in turn, depending on where the sockeyes are found.

"There's a large concentration of bears here and the food source is running out and they're starting to go into their roaming mode," said  Bill Leacock of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a New York-based conservation organization.

The WCS is working together with the Russian government on a joint study of brown bears around Kurilskoe Lake. Most bears move to another to the other side of Kurilskoe Lake in Kamchatka, a mountainous peninsula in Eastern Russia that points toward the northern tip Japan. Others wander to nearby creeks where sockeye runs have yet to begin.

Feasting on salmon, they build up fat reserves needed for hibernation. They could not survive the long winter ahead without healthy salmon runs. "That's really driving the whole ecosystem here. And allowing us to maintain high densities of bears," Leacock said.

Brown bears live in Europe, Asia and North America, but one of the largest and most densely concentrated populations inhabits the Russian sanctuary.
Russian law protects the bears, close cousins of the American grizzlies, but they still face threats from poachers.

"Within the sanctuary, in a period of ten days before, we found five poached bears, including one bear that we captured outside the sanctuary and put a collar on. He moved nearly 40 miles and was killed and slit open for his gallbladder," said Leacock.

Bear gallbladders are used in Asian folk remedies and can bring poachers hundreds of dollars for each organ. Russian authorities estimate that poachers slaughter as many as 2,000 bears die in Kamchatka every year. Trophy hunters legally kill hundreds more. The onslaught has caused a dramatic drop in the bear population, reducing the number to between 6,000 and 10,000.

"Even if we have a population of 10,000 bears here, there's a real danger that the densities could really drop if these trends continue," Leacock said. The bears face another threat as well. Fish poachers could overharvest the salmon, wiping out the bears' major source of food. The joint study seeks to find conservation measures that can save Kamchatka's brown bears. 

Source: CNN Environmental Correspondence


poached: illegally hunt (cazada furtiva o ilegalmente)
trophy hunters:
hunters in search of an award for success in hunting (cazadores de trofeos)
have gorged on :
have eaten, had fed on (se han saciado de)
plump salmon: fat salmon (salmones regordetes)
poachers: illegal hunters (cazadores furtivos)
halcyon days: idyllic times (días tranquilos, tiempos pacíficos)
used to face: used to deal with (solían enfrentar)
sockeyes: fatty red salmon of Pacific coast and rivers (salmones rojos)
running out:
becoming exhausted (agotándose)
roaming mode: wandering about again (búsqueda de alimento)
wander to: move towards (se desplazan hacia)

creeks: natural streams of water (riachos)
feasting on: having a banquet on (al alimentarse de)
regulating (regulando)
North-American bears (osos grises norteamericanos)
sanctuary: protected area (santuario, área protegida)
slit open: cut through (degollado)
gallbladder: an organ next to the liver (vesícula)
kill (matan, asesinan)
onslaught: offensive (arremetida, ofensiva)
drop: fall, a sudden sharp decrease in some quantity (caída, reducción)
danger (peligro, amenaza)
overharvest: harvest in excess (pescar excesivamente)
wiping out:
exhausting (eliminando)