As warmer weather finally arrives here in Russia (mid teens at best!) a new challenge has arrived on site. It turns out that Sakhalin Island is the home to some of the biggest bears in Russia! Apparently they weigh in at about 400kg, which I guess is big for a bear? I must have missed the class on bears in high school, but 400 sounds like a lot.
So after a long, long winter the bears have awoken, and strangely enough they are as hungry as hell.
The site has two rivers that run along its boundaries and last summer they were a source of many a meal for me on site. One of the Russian geologists would get up early and go fishing for salmon. We would have salmon caviar for breakfast and salmon steaks for lunch and I get the feeling that the bears were on a similar diet.
Now that construction works have begun the rivers are now full of silt and dirt and not one salmon has been seen swimming up the river. Apart from the obvious environment damage this has caused to the rivers the second problem is that the bears have nothing to eat! When we brought this up with the contractors who were responsible for silting up the river, they informed us that the bears could also eat berries so it shouldn’t be a problem! 400kg bear…a lot of punnets of raspberries in my books, but OK berries it is.
Then three kids from a nearby village were out playing in the woods, and to cut a gruesome story short, two made it, one didn’t. So now we have human hunting hungry bears roaming around the area. Solution..our environmental department has hired a hunter! For me this is the first time I have worked in an environmental department which hires someone to kill fauna as opposed to protecting it. The hunter is a real dude as well, about 5 feet tall and broad, long beard and old army issue camouflages and instead of a civilised tranquiliser rifle he wields a sawn-off shotgun!
Next problem, one hunter, 250 employees on site! Solution, issue people with a whistle to scare the bear away if it attacks you. As I mentioned I missed the class on bears, but a whistle! 6 months of winter, no food, wake up, no fish, a punnet of berries, a juicy human blowing a whistle… when you explain to the locals why you have the whistle they give you this look like, ‘this is what happens when you get Coke, MTV and Burger King!”
My favourite is one of the expats who works in the administration department for the project. This guy leaves the hotel, walks about ten paces to get on a bus, then gets to site and walks another ten paces and he is inside the office and the same to get home, but his whistle is permanently around his neck, at the ready. The only time this guy goes outside is to go to the toilet, and whilst the Russian diet makes you feel like you are wrestling with a bear from time to time whilst on the can, I feel a whistle would do little to help.