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Elusive bear wanders Ruhnu Island

  • 2006-05-24
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - The tiny island of Ruhnu is normally home to just 60 people, but this spring the locals are making room for a new resident 's a 150 kilogram brown bear. Since arriving in Estonia via an ice floe from Latvia, the bear has become somewhat of a national celebrity. Both nations have followed the bear's epic journey since he was first sited in the Gulf of Riga stranded on a floating ice burg. Hope was almost lost that the bear would land safely when he disappeared into a thick fog.

A few days later, a group of Ruhnu Island fishermen discovered mysterious paw prints on the beach, and locals began reporting sightings of an unfamiliar guest in the woods. A team of hunters and representatives from the Estonian Environmen Ministry set out for Ruhnu Island on May 20 to tranquilize the bear and transport it by ship and helicopter to the mainland. But the hunters left the island empty handed: the bear had eluded them, staying just out of range of the tranquilizer guns.

Reigo Joe, a resident of the island, said locals are excited about the attention. "He's not causing any problems," Joe said. "Most locals haven't even seen the bear. He lives in the forest and eats ants. All the ant hills have been pretty much destroyed. We have also fed him some bread, so his stomach is full." Until now, no bears have inhabited Ruhnu, and the locals are learning how to share their small island with the 150 kilogram animal. Although many are taking precautions, Joe said residents are not living in fear. "We don't leave our garbage outside our houses anymore, but nobody is scared. Children don't wander into the woods alone, but we're not hiding inside. Everybody says the bear is scared himself."

Although marksmen could kill the bear with a rifle, this method is not considered necessary. A second attempt to tranquilize the bear will be made in the coming weeks. Until then, locals have been advised to set up a regular feeding spot from which he can be easily targeted. Some say the bear's arrival could become the best thing to happen in Ruhnu. The island survives off its summer tourist season, and this year is expected to be busier than normal thanks to all the attention. "It could be even better financially if the bear is here in summer. It might attract more tourists," Joe says.