Aleksei Turovski: Bears spotted in Tallinn emboldened by lack of people

Zoologist Aleksei Turovski on Thursday's edition of
Zoologist Aleksei Turovski on Thursday's edition of "Ringvaade". Source: ERR

Fewer people out and about for several weeks during the coronavirus pandemic probably gave the two bears spotted in a Tallinn suburb Thursday the confidence to dare to venture within city limits, zoologist Aleksei Turovski says.

"We have had a special situation, and in terms of quarantining we can really say that we have done very well. As a result, the animals gained in confidence. At first, cautiously, but after three, four, five weeks – with no people to disturb them - they got bolder," Turovski told ETV magazine show "Ringvaade" Thursday.

Tallinn is a very green city, and as there have been gradually fewer people around town than usual, this leads to a reduction in the scent of human beings, along with their other signs, Turovski explained. 

"The bear has dared to move. Of course, it is very geodesically-oriented," he noted, as the primary reason how the bears entered the Haabersti district of Tallinn.

A second factor is the time of year, he said. "This is the time of year when animals are at their hungriest." 

The third factor, however, is a question of territoriality, he added.

"It's probably a young mother bear with her cub, and she's not very sure about this territory, where she would be family leader."

Turovski said the bears probably came from the countryside surrounding Tallinn, in Harju County, via Astangu, a forested area on the southwest approaches of Tallinn. 

"There's a corridor there, and every year elk calves show up, whose mothers have rejected them, after giving birth to a newborn in spring. So they have to manage on their own and are indeed bewildered."

As regards bears, however, while it is the case they eat pretty much everything, in the spring it is difficult to find any food. 

"In particular a young bear, who doesn't have its own territory where there's always something available to eat."

Turovski believes that the mother bear moving, with her cub through the Haabersti district is not likely to be too distraught. 

"However, the bear is an extremely cautious animal, and is afraid and worried about it for sure. Our urban areas are more or less deserted, so it dares to roam there."

When confronted with a bear, speak at your normal volume

Provided people do not force themselves on a bear, do not try to antagonize it, or whisper frenetically, then it should not present a danger.

 "Whispering, which is a very energetic sound, can cause them to stress or even startle them."

While whispering might seem like the natural mode of speech when confronted with a bear, Turovski says it would be better to speak in one's normal voice.

"Say something like, 'It's nice to see you, teddy,' or something along those lines. It'll understand right away."

Under no circumstances should you flee, the zoologist added. 

"Above all, a bear wants food and, of course, security. So as soon as a person starts talking [normally - ed.], every bear will realize that you're not interested in them."

As for the Haabersti case, so long as no one scared the mother bear, and hadn't driven them to and fro, it would have essentially been able to return along the path of its own footprints,

However, Turovski believes that this is probably out of the question now.

Bears' lives probably not endangered

Turovski also noted that there was no need to fear for the life bear's life, or that its family might be endangered by the ongoing operation, involving the police, the rescue board, and other personnel, as such operations take place every year, with the help of the police. 

As with other animals, bears can be dealt with in such operations with the use of a tranquilizer dart, using an anesthetic called Immobilon, fired from a gun.

Turovski said Immobilon is of such strength that doctors are banned from using it with human patients.

At the same time, the dosage should be considered in relation to the size and weight of the bear, in the vet's preparations.

Once an animal is immobilized in this way, its condition can then be assessed. If the animal proves healthy, it can be released back into the forest, Turovski said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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