The second episode of the brand new ITV series, Survival with Ray Mears, will be aired this Sunday 25th at 19:00 on ITV1.
In the second episode of Survival, Ray tracks bears in the pristine wilderness of British Columbia’s Pacific Coast region.
“A lot of people fear bears,” says Ray. “I think there’s no need for that. They’re only dangerous when they’re misunderstood. To me their strength and intelligence makes them among the most intriguing of all predators. I can’t wait to track them in their world.”
British Columbia houses some of the world’s most beautiful forests, which are inhabited by a healthy number of grizzly and black bears. However, Ray is also interested in the spirit bear. This incredibly rare bear has pure white fur, and is actually a black bear carrying a recessive gene. It is thought that there are only 400 alive today, so finding one will be a daunting challenge for Ray.
Describing his plans for the second episode of the series, Ray unveils that “part of my quest is to go in search of one of the rarest bears of all, the spirit bear. I want to find out what their future really holds in store. If I’m lucky enough to see one, it will be a personal first.”
Ray starts his journey by taking a small plane into the wilderness. He touches down at Klemtu, a tiny fishing outpost, with his wildlife cameramen Shane Moore and Isaac Babcock. They hire a boat and find a remote spot, called Mussel Inlet, where Ray quickly finds tracks of grizzly bears, intent on devouring as much as they can from the annual salmon run, which is in full swing.
Grizzly bears can be very dangerous if surprised, or if a human gets too close. Thus, Ray warns the crew: “We’re entering their terrain and we need to respect that. It’s up to us to avoid triggering a confrontation. Every year, two or three people are killed by bears. I think that misreading the situation is more to blame than animal aggression. It’s critical that we don’t surprise one. We have to remember that bears can sprint at 30 mph. We’d never outrun one.”
On his guard, Ray finds numerous grizzly prints that lead him to a grizzly mother and a couple of two-year-old cubs. They play for a while but are suddenly bullied away by a massive grizzly male – a giant that would be about 3m tall if he stood up.
Ray and the crew are watching the grizzly male from across the river when, without warning, he lakes a lunge for the river and swims over to them. At this point he is just 50 feet away and Ray is aware of the potential danger.
The bear gradually moves closer until he is just 20 feet from Ray and the crew. Ray’s concern grows, but he is clear on what they must do: “We have to make sure that we’re not blocking where the bear wants to go.”
The bear seems content but suddenly his mood changes and Ray detects some agitation. He advises the crew: “You’ve got to move slowly and gently.”
Gradually the group move away from the bear, and out of danger. At this point Ray reflects: “There you go. We didn’t pose a threat to the bear; the bear wasn’t in the least bit stressed. This is their domain, and if you treat them with the respect that they deserve, you shouldn’t come to any grief.”
The presence of the huge grizzly male leads Ray to conclude that he will not find any spirit bears at the river inlet he has chosen; grizzlies seek out the best fishing spots and defend them ferociously. In order to find the elusive spirit bear, Ray decides that he should first track down black bears since spirit bears share much of the same habitat.
Ray searches numerous smaller river inlets in the huge maze of waterways which make up the Pacific Coast. Eventually, he finds an inlet bordered by thick forest. There are several lively black bears fishing for salmon in a river that is brimming with fish.
Ray is concerned not to see any young cubs: “These bears aren’t as fat as I would have expected for this time of year. And it’s peculiar that we haven’t seen any one-year-old cubs. I’d hoped to find lots of cubs being taught to fish by their mothers, and the more I think about it the more it worries me. What could possibly have happened to this year’s cubs?”
Ray consults local guide, Doug Neasloss, a member of the First Nation Kitasoo tribe. He explains that while the salmon run is strong this autumn, last year it was very poor.
Before hibernating, British Columbia’s bears gorge on salmon, putting on the fat that keeps them alive over the winter months. If they fail to eat enough fish, the bears can die of starvation over the winter, and the females may not be able to suckle their cubs. Doug believes last year’s lack of salmon may have contributed directly to a lack of cubs this year. He thinks that over-fishing could be partly to blame.
Ray is deeply concerned to hear this news. Spirit bears are often bullied away from prime fishing spots by grizzlies and he worries that last year’s poor salmon run may have affected them even more seriously.
Leading the team on a final search, Ray makes an extraordinary find: white hairs on a bear trail near a babbling stream. With just one more day to go, he hopes tomorrow will lead to a sighting of these incredibly rare animals…