This is Ma’ah. Her name means grandmother in the language of the local Tsimshian First Nations language. She is perhaps 18 years old, and she is a really special bear. Not only has Ma’ah graced the cover of National Geographic for Paul Nicklen’s 2011 spirit bear story, but, somehow, being in her presence puts one at peace. It is a gift to spend time with her.
Lucky for her there was a good berry crop on the coast this year, because there were very, very few pink salmon in the river valley where she likes to fish each fall. Salmon are such an important part of the ecosystems Ma’ah inhabits, it was very distressing to see so few fish return this season. But salmon numbers are known to fluctuate – sometimes drastically – over time. And, Mother Nature can also be extremely resilient. So fingers crossed the salmon bounce back from this poor year. I’ve seen it happen before—and Ma’ah surely has too.
Now that the season is over and the bear watchers and guides have gone home, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever see Ma’ah again? She is slowing down, losing muscle mass and showing her age. Like anybody who has been lucky enough to see her, I have my fingers crossed that this beautiful elder bear will make it through another winter.