The world of bears is a truly fascinating place. One moment you are in the lab, shouting at the machine that crashed while you were running your precious samples, and the next you find yourself answering an email about classical music composition based on bear heartbeats.
I love talking about my day to my friends. It\’s like I beam down from another universe to do normal people life and then beam back up to the world of ursine madness!
I have some amazing news to tell you, which took a very long time to process, like most amazing things do. But in order to convey the importance of this piece of news, I need to wind this story back to the very origins of the blog – and beyond.
A Brief History of Ursine Madness:
We will use 2014 as a starting point in this story\’s timeline: the second year of my undergraduate degree. During this year I made some important discoveries about what I wanted to do with my life:
- I realised that art, even though it had now taken a second place in my life, would be a skill I would use for communicating my science and drawing people\’s attention. Science is too fascinating to be made boring!
- I am a pretty good insect killer and can follow basic instructions on creating a beetle taxonomic collection. My way in the fly-murder business was already being paved.
- George Monbiot was going to be added to my list of my greatest heroes and role models.
- I came to terms with the fact that I just don’t like beer and that this was going to dramatically affect my social life. I decided it was ok.
To the latter I devoted most of my time from then onward. Bears were going to take over my placement year, my dissertation all other assignments I could possibly give an ursine twist to.
This is a lucky moment in someone\’s life when you finally arrive to the discovery of the thing you always knew you should be doing. Bears and large carnivores in general became the \’duhhh!\’ response of my friends, even though I seemed surprised to have arrived to that conclusion.
A lot have followed since then and I now find myself truly devoted to my bears – and their poop (devotion is devotion, you can’t pick and choose).
My dissertation took me to Alaska, where I met a great many bear affectionados and realised that science has many faces and some of these faces are pretty happy, exciting, friendly and kind. Most of them also happen to have amazing stories to tell. Most of them truly passionate about their work. Truly inspiring.
To second only my love for dogs, these kinds of people are my favourite living beings in the world. The fact that they happened to be scientists too, inspired me to a point of no return! I was going to do it. A PhD on something bear.
Fast forward to more recent times, that something bear turned out to be flies. I have spent the last two years of my life looking for bears in fly guts (previous posts might explain that bit in a slightly more scientific terms). I didn’t quite picture flies when I thought of my bear PhD back in Alaska, I must admit.
Last September I made some new bear friends during the International Bear Association conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I talked to people who work with bears in the most unexpected of ursine habitats – tropical rainforests! Andean bear specialists in South America and Sun and Asiatic black bear specialists in Southeast Asia. All with the same bear-spark, same devotion and good spirit as I remembered from my first encounter with my bear-people kind.
What are conferences if not a place to exchange ideas, improve your understanding on certain aspects of your study and meet the most interesting people!?
If you are lucky, you get to talk about your work to someone who finds it interesting.
If you are very lucky, they give you some good advice on how you could improve it or solve some of your problems.
If you are very very lucky, they think it is interesting enough to keep talking to you after the conference.
In some extreme occasions this happens: your work solves questions about their work and their work offers solutions to yours.
The conference in Slovenia was an extreme occasion. A small idea for a collaboration started. An idea to use my method to find other bears (the ones I haven’t yet claimed as my own, but reside in forests wild and beautiful I haven’t even been yet), so elusive, some of the other methods fail to detect them in the field. (Genius….)
The idea turned into chats, the chats into emails, the emails into a grant proposal and, a couple of months ago, the proposal turned into an accepted application. The International Association of Bear Research and Management has decided to put its faith in flies (and me and my team) and back us up while we trap, ship, import and squeeze flies to find Sun, Moon (Asiatic black) bears, and spectacled (Andean) bears! Khhhhhh!!!
See why it took such a long time to digest!?
I still can’t believe it.
Sometimes I feel so incredibly lucky in my academic journey, I have to really trace all my steps right from the beginning of my bear journey to convince myself that I am really not an exceptionally lucky fraud.
Last night I spent the night in my office.
I had to be close to the lab to carry out a time series experiment. Somewhere in between layers of consciousness you only reach at very early hours of the morning – also accessible when you have the flu and your fever gets above 38.5oC – I thought:
Sometimes we have no idea how far our luck stretches – way further than what we dreamt or wished for ourselves. Dreams can be superseded.
Mine involve a lot of flies, some local, some from foreign, tropical places. All with the potential to carry traces of my favourite creature on the planet in their little guts. Bear-flies from this continent – and beyond!
I wrote this two weeks ago and then got lost in remotely helping my brother and sister fight animal crime in Greece. Haku’s story has traveled to more than 40.000 people through our youth centre’s fb page and this blog. But I thought that, in the midst of all the sadness, sometimes it is important to remember the good things. And to let others know that the good things are the things we fight for, even if everything else seems to be against us.
Wherever you are, whatever you do, I hope your passion attracts all the luck in the world. May your destiny stretch to your dreams and far enough to see the next dream, and the next dream…
We. Can. Do. This.