Sun’aq Intern Helps Collar Bears and Elk

Jessica Rich with unconscious young male bear. Jerry Belant / Mississippi State University

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A small number of people ever get to touch a Kodiak bear in their lifetime. Sun’aq Tribe wildlife intern, Jessica Rich, had the opportunity multiple times this summer.

She participated in a study looking at how foresting could be affecting elk and bear populations on Afognak Island. That involved knocking the animals unconscious and then collaring them with devices that can track their movements.

Rich says she’s studying wildlife ecology and management at Michigan Technological University, and she was able to assist the researchers on-site for a period of two days.

“This is kind of like the dream job for the field I’m interested in, doing stuff like this, going out and working directly with animals.”

She says they’d take a helicopter and shoot the animals from the air, knocking them unconscious. They could then land, gather the samples they need and fasten the collar on them.

Rich describes what it’s like to be up close and personal with a Kodiak bear.

She says the bears’ fur felt course.

“Usually they’re pretty dirty, but softer than I kind of expected. Like longer. Softer than a dog’s fur.”

She says their smell depended on what they were doing.

“Like some of ‘em were just running through a marsh, and so they were fairly clean, just smelled kind of like mud, and then some of them were just really stinky for who knows what reason.”

Rich says the bears were heavily unconscious when the researchers approached. The elk were the ones they had to watch out for. They had a tendency to kick.

She says her internship wraps up this month and she has one semester left at Michigan Tech.

Rich is one of three Tribal Youth interns with the Sun’aq Tribe. All three will present on their experiences on Monday. That event will be from 5 – 6 p.m. at the Kodiak Public Library.

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