Stunning close-up of wild brown bear taken by Igor Gushchin at Kronotsky, Russia

Updated: 02 Nov 2011
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Staring into a camera with a mischievous glint, a bear inquisitively prods the lens with his nose. 
But this isn't an image taken by a secured device operated from afar by remote control. 
Instead, it was captured by a photographer with nerves of steel brandishing a handheld camera. 

Too close for comfort? A Kamchatka brown bear inquisitively prods a handheld camera at the Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Russia
The stunning shot was one of several snapped by Igor Gushchin as he chronicled the behaviour of Kamchatka brown bears at the Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Russia. 
The expedition caught the animals at the moment red salmon go for spawn, drawing the bears out. 
His images also show other photographers getting up close and personal with the bears. 
The 52-year-old said: 'All of us there are pretty experienced wildlife photographers - we have learned the behaviour of bears and are strictly guided by safety rules. 
'But it's impossible to eliminate the risk of being so close to wild bears, and I wouldn't recommend anyone try and repeat this experience themselves. 

In his element: These stunning shots were taken by photographer Igor Gushchin during a recent trip to the national park
'I was expecting to get some shots of the bears fishing into the lakes, but I never thought one would get so close to me as it did. 
'The contact between humans and bears is so unusual, it's extremely rare to see. 
'But it was such and incredible moment - I will never forget it.' 
Mr Gushchin, from Moscow, has been photographing wild animals since 2005. 

Bearing down: Mr Gushchin took this photo of another photographer seeking the perfect shot
But he almost never got to take these pictures as the bears in the Kronotsky region recently almost became extinct. 
He said: 'About ten years ago, the bears were really rare - almost extinct with the "help" of poachers. 
'But thanks to the selflessness of the nature defenders and workers of Kronotsky Nature Reserve the brown bears population was not only preserved but got substantially bigger. 
'On the territory of the reserve there is no poaching at all now and the bears are free.' 

On the up: Bears in the Kronotsky region recently almost became extinct
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