A glass is probably one of the most elegant man-made material. Be it a smooth and stylized wine glass or an artistically moulded glass art. Glass in any form is always pleasing to the eye. But witnessing broken glass transports your imagination to a violent scene. The sight and sound of shattering glass have often been used as a dramatic metaphor in many movies to establish a violent action scene or just to represent angst of a character.

The glass was broken and we could see claw marks on the wall.  It was quite an experience to imagine what was happening a few minutes back.

The breaking of glass, however, is not always as dramatic or as violent, in fact, at times it could be a very subtle act and one can actually sleep through such an incident. This is exactly what happened in one of the remote villages of Zanskar, Ladakh, the trans-Himalayan region of India. I literally slept through the entire time a Himalayan brown bear was trying to make its way inside the house, breaking through a glass window. I woke up only when neighboring household raised an alarm when they saw the bear running into their field.

I along with my colleague stepped outside the house to inspect and saw two juvenile bears scouring around in the fields, occasionally standing up on their two feet and wondering why do these humans look in distress?

After making a lot of sound by beating tin cans and flashing torchlights at the bears, the villagers turned to us to see if we were okay. In minutes we understood the reason for their concern. One of the villagers took us back to the house we were staying and showed us the window. The glass was broken and we could see claw marks on the wall. One of the bears was trying to climb inside the house, in through the window of the room that we were sleeping in. It was quite an experience to imagine what was happening a few minutes back.

I imagine the bears would stand up against the wall placing front limbs against the wall and pushing gently to detect weak spots. As soon as they touch the glass, they can probably sense this particular surface will give way when applied enough pressure, not to shatter but just to crack and gently slide open.

 

Even now, when I narrate this story to my friends, the only thing they want to know is, how did I not know that the bear broke the window? To tell you the truth, I am a light sleeper and wake up at slightest of disturbance. In this situation, however, the bears have adopted a technique of breaking the glass windows without hurting themselves and making any sound. Of what I understand, the bear paws are heavily padded but are very sensitive to detect ground features. I have seen videos of bears negotiating tricky slopes and cliffs not relying on sight but only on what they can feel. I imagine the bears would stand up against the wall placing front limbs against the wall and pushing gently to detect weak spots. As soon as they touch the glass, they can probably sense this particular surface will give way when applied enough pressure, not to shatter but just to crack and gently slide open.

For the next 21 days after this incident, I paid special attention to all sites where the bears have broken window and have observed how the glass panes were broken. It appears to be an intelligent strategy of push-crack-slide open rather than bang-shatter-scatter.

(The Assamese translation of this story can be read at the following link – https://biriyaa.com/brown-bear-through-the-window/)

KIRTI CHAVAN

Conservationist and Researcher at Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust.

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