Tag Archives: bears

Expert brings bear facts to Victoria

Fly_FishingsmRenowned bear expert Charlie Russell befriended bears while living among them in a remote area of Russia  (see below for ticket information in Qualicum,Victoria and North Vancouver Fr 19th to 23rd)

Bears that are given no reason to fear humans are willing to be friendly, but the hunting culture in Canada makes them afraid and unpredictable, says a renowned bear expert.

“Bears tend to want to be social with people and share the land with us,” said Charlie Russell, 72, who lived with the brown bears of the Kamchatka peninsula in far east Russia for 10 years.

Russell, an author, photographer and the subject of several documentaries, will talk about his unique journey into the bear world Saturday at 3 p.m. at St. Ann’s Academy Theatre. The talk, which costs $20, is part of the Creatively United for the Planet Festival, which also features wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Faisal Moola of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Russell, who lives in Alberta, speaks tonight in Qualicum Beach as part of a B.C. tour partially aimed at stopping B.C.’s grizzly-bear hunt and having grizzlies listed under the federal Species At Risk Act.

Russell, who has studied bears for 50 years, believes people must change their attitudes to bears.

“People believe [bears] are unpredictable and that, if they ever lose their fear of people, they could be dangerous,” he said.

“My experience told me that bears were extremely intelligent, peace-loving animals who wanted to get along with humans if we would let them, but we were so afraid of them that we could never take them up on that.”

To a bear, a human is a wildly unpredictable animal, Russell said.

“When they meet us, they never know if they are going to get a bullet or a camera or someone running away. They must be completely puzzled.”

In Kamchatka, Russell and his partner, Maureen Enns, were surrounded by brown bears — similar to grizzlies — that had no previous experience with humans.

“I wanted them to learn to trust me,” he said.

He was so successful, he was sometimes left babysitting the cubs.

One day in 2003, however, when he returned to his cabin expecting to find the bears emerging from hibernation, he discovered that all had been killed by poachers.

Now he is continuing his work in Canada. Russell said it’s not simply hunting deaths that are a problem — it’s the stigma promoted by the hunting culture.

“For people to feel good about killing these animals that I find so wonderful, you have to insist they are dangerous and want to hurt us.”

The Suzuki Foundation plans to hand out cards at the event, demanding legal protection for grizzlies. Last month, the group completed a study that found grizzly bears could disappear from many parts of Canada unless they are listed under the federal Species At Risk Act and immediate recovery efforts are started.

“We’re hoping to send thousands of cards to Environment Minister Peter Kent saying that B.C. citizens are tired of waiting for the province to protect the species, and we want to see federal protection under the Species At Risk Act,” Moola said.

B.C. and Alberta are the only provinces without a standalone Endangered Species Act.

It’s estimated there are 15,000 grizzlies in B.C, but nine sub-populations in the south of the province are on the cusp of extinction. In Alberta, about 760 grizzlies remain in fragmented territory.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has recommended to Kent that grizzlies be listed. Public consultation ends Oct. 3.

In 2001, in the dying days of the last provincial NDP government, a three-year moratorium was put on the grizzly hunt, but the Liberals reversed that decision.

Rob Fleming, NDP environment critic, said in an interview that if the NDP is elected next month, he would want to see increased protection for the bears.

“I think in southern B.C., where there are demonstrably imperiled grizzlies, perhaps there would have to be restrictions or closures,” he said.

In other parts of the province, there needs to be better science and solid information, which means restoring the number of civil servants in areas that have been cut, Fleming said.

Tickets for Russell’s talk are available at Lyle’s Place at 770 Yates St., or online at creativelyunitedfortheplanet.com.


© Copyright 2013

Bear Hug

Charlie Russell spent 10 years living with bears in Eastern Russia. Now he’s out to show Canada that humans and grizzlies can get along.

By Elizabeth Hames From Readers Digest Canada, March 2012

Commotion in the distance catches Charlie Russell’s eye and he squints into the sun to make out the shapes of three brown bears. They are heading towards him—fast. Snow explodes around them every time their massive paws hit the ground. But Russell stays put. When they get a metre or so from him, the towering animals slow down to a stroll. The leading bear holds her face very close to Russell’s. She nuzzles his nose with her own and Russell breaks into a smile. “Hey, little bear,” he says.

Here the audience holds its breath. It’s 2010—five years later—and we’re in Whitehorse, Yukon, where a whitehaired Russell stands before a crowded conference room as a documentary about his life, The Edge of Eden, flickers behind him. Local citizens have come to get, first-hand, the story of the “Bear Man of Kamchatka.”

Russell, now 70, earned this title after he relocated to the easternmost part of Russia, built a cabin at the base of a lakeside volcano and spent more than ten springs and summers living with brown bears—the taller, heavier cousin of the North American grizzly.

“No question, bears are dangerous,” says Russell, but he also argues that demonizing them prevents us from recognizing their intelligent, playful and peaceful nature. “They attack us because we abuse them,” he insists, and for the last two years he has travelled across Canada, lecturing in communities where bears are considered a nuisance. “What I want to do now is work on the human side of the problem,” Russell says. In a country where cities spread deep into the rural landscape and hunters kill about 450 grizzlies annually, he is determined to change the way we treat our ursine neighbours.

Russell was raised with the idea that “the only good bear is a dead bear.” His father, a hunter and outfitter, shared stories of bloodthirsty grizzlies with his five children. However, when the family’s hunting business faltered in the early 1960s, Russell and his brother joined their father on an expedition to film grizzlies in Alaska. Russell couldn’t help but wonder why bears behaved aggressively towards gun-toters, but left the filmmakers alone. “I suspected they didn’t like cruelty,” he says.

In 1994 he tested out his theory in British Columbia’s Khutzeymateen Inlet, where he took tourists on bearviewing excursions. One afternoon, while resting on a log between guiding trips, Russell sat still as a female grizzly casually approached. “I knew if I did not move, she would keep coming,” he later wrote in his 2002 book Grizzly Heart. “I had decided to let her come as close as she wanted.” Russell spoke to the bear in gentle tones and she sat down beside him. She put her paw on his hand and Russell reciprocated the gesture, touching her nose, lip and teeth. These were the iron jaws featured in his father’s campfire stories, now no more threatening than the snout of a puppy. If he could repeat similar moments—and perhaps photograph the encounters—Russell believed he could prove that “just by treating bears kindly, people can live safely with them.”

The place to go was the Kamchatka Peninsula. At 1,200 kilometres long, the area has one of the densest populations of brown bears in the world—as many as 1,200 roam the government-controlled sanctuary. In 1996 Russell settled next to the pristine Kambalnoye Lake with his partner, artist Maureen Enns. With the closest town more than 200 kilometres away, Russell felt the location was remote enough to study the bears without distractions—or poachers looking for bear gallbladders, a hot commodity in traditional Chinese medicine. “What I wanted,” explains Russell, “was to befriend the bears, to be the only human influence on them.”

Russell and Enns began mingling with the animals immediately, without incident. “I had so many bears around,” he says, “I couldn’t go to the bathroom without an encounter.” The next year, however, things took an interesting turn. He heard about three orphaned cubs at a nearby zoo. The cubs were caged and ate only the popcorn and candy that children tossed to them. Russell and Enns knew the cubs would grow big enough to swipe at people through the bars and therefore be shot. So they bought the cubs from the zoo and helicoptered them to their cabin.

CharlieRussellAt only six kilograms each, Chico, Biscuit and Rosie were too small to venture off on their own, so Russell housed them behind an electric fence—meant more to keep predators out than to keep the young bears in. Experts warned Russell and Enns that the cubs would quickly become aggressive. But in their seven years together, these bears never turned on the couple. When the shrubs exploded in berries, Russell took the cubs to forage. When the salmon moved inland, he taught the cubs to fish. It took them a while to get comfortable in the water, but soon the bears were paddling confidently behind Enns in her kayak. The couple was suddenly saddled with more cubs when a sow began using them as a babysitting service. “She figured it was safe to drop them off with me while she went hunting,” says Russell. “What a wonderful way to be taken advantage of.”

(Photo by Maureen Enns)

To Read More:http://www.readersdigest.ca/magazine/true-stories/true-stories-bear-hug?id=1