VIDEO: Up close and personal… with a brown bear

Maris Hellrand writes about her experience encountering a male brown bear at a wildlife-watching nature holiday in eastern Estonia.

There he was. The young male bear appeared on the clearing just before 8 PM, sniffing around the forest’s edge at first and working his way closer to the hut. By this time, we had spent two hours in the bear watching hide-out of Natourest in Lääne-Viru County observing a few raccoon-dogs, red squirrels and birds.

The bear – as if aware of its role as the leading act of the night – seemed relaxed and happy, just kept walking around, wading in the stream, scratching his back against the tree-stems, disappearing in the woods and returning to the clearing on either side of the hut throughout the evening. It didn’t take notice of any human observers while the raccoon-dogs politely kept their distance and only appeared when the bear was busy elsewhere. The bright Estonian midsummer night allowed great views of the animals until well after midnight.

Bert Rähni’s company, Natourest, has been offering adventure and nature holidays in Estonia for two decades and now owns 85 hectares (210 acres) of wilderness about 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Tallinn. The two huts have space for nine people each and cater to groups as well as individual nature lovers.

Local Estonians rediscovering animal watching season

As the novel coronavirus shut down international tourism for the most popular animal watching season, local Estonians are starting to discover it. There is no guarantee for bears to visit the spot each and every night. In order to avoid the animals getting used to humans and dependent on feeding, there is no bait apart from a few smells and small pieces of fish or handful of grains, just enough to make them curious. So, luck is a part of the authentic experience.

It was also a surprisingly calming experience. At first it felt like you have to be quick to see the animals but, after a little while, a slow-down mode settles over the observers. You wait quietly and when you see someone, there is no hurry – the animals don’t run off scared. They are not being chased and just mind their own business quietly.

We were lucky to see the bear already early in the evening and for a long time. But to be sure, you don’t feel like leaving the hut in the middle of the forest with a young male bear in the vicinity. The rule is – you leave the hide-out at 8 AM. So, when the dusk finally settles over the clearing, it’s time to slumber in your sleeping bag.

There really is no need to travel to faraway lands for exotic experiences. The best encounters happen right here, in Estonia.

Cover: A bear in Estonia. The image is illustrative. Photo by Erik Mandre/Wikipedia.

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