Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Edge of Eden: Living with the Grizzlies by Jeff & Sue Turner

Charlie Russell, The Bear Man of Kamchatka
Charlie Russell, The Bear Man of Kamchatka
Charlie Russell is a Canadian naturalist, who has had a lifelong fascination with Grizzly Bears. His father, Andy Russell was himself a renowned conservationist and author of many books, including Grizzly Country.

Charlie believes that man can peacefully co-exist with Grizzly Bears. In addition to using an electric fence around his house in the wilderness, Charlie uses just pepper spray to prevent any untoward encounter with the bears. To quote Charlie: “...they are not unpredictable..they are's just that we just do not know how to predict them...”.

The documentary is shot in South Kamchatka Sanctuary, one of Russia's protected habitats and a true spectacle to behold. Misty mountains surround beautiful lakes and Charlie has set up his study center right in the middle of this beautiful oasis.

Charlie Russell's study center in Kamchatka
Charlie's study center
After the end of Cold War in Russia, hunters and poachers killed bears indiscriminately, resulting in lot of orphaned cubs. Charlie decided to launch a pioneering project to recover orphaned cubs in the wild.

The documentary focuses on the two five month old male cubs adopted by Charlie. His typical day starts with preparing their breakfast (mixture of sunflower seeds and sugar). This is followed by Charlie taking the cubs out to explore and indulge in some fun time. Charlie is an expert fisherman and teaches them the crucial skill of fishing that they need to master in order to be successful in the wild.

Charlie Russell and his adopted bear cub sport fishing
Charlie and his adopted cub sport fishing
Charlie’s love for these bears is evident in the way he patiently guides them to catch fish and protects them from dangers such as aggressive adult bears. Adult bears are a particular danger to the cubs and Charlie needs to be on his toes all the time to come to their rescue. This can be quite tough for Charlie, considering his advanced age.

What differentiates Charlie’s work with the bears from a Timothy Treadwell is the amount of respect and understanding, Charlie has for these giants. Charlie cares for his cubs, as a surrogate mother would for her offspring. He never takes the bears for granted and treats them with the necessary care, always having pepper spray handy, should things go out of hand. The documentary even contains an example of Charlie using the pepper spray to save his adopted cubs from an aggressive adult male bear.

Charlie Russell with one of his adopted grizzly bear cubs
Charlie Russell with one of his adopted cubs
Charlie's efforts have helped turned the South Kamchatka Sanctuary into a World Heritage Site. I am currently reading Charlie’s book Grizzly Heart. The book documents the efforts of Charlie in setting up his study center. I will post a separate entry to review the book.

Here’s wishing many more years of healthy life to Charlie Russell, as he continues his exemplary work with one of my most favorite animals on the planet: Grizzly Bear.

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Image Source: ARD

You might also like:

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
A Primate's Memoir by Robert Sapolsky


  1. Sadly, China places a big demand on supply of wildlife body parts for their traditional medicines...gall bladders of bears, farming bile from black bears, Rhino horn etc. It breaks my heart that these beautiful creatures are being poached for medicines that have no proven value. :(

    Very interesting post. I've noted down the book title, thanks. I plan to watch the full documentary later today. I did come across this article after reading your post...just in case you're interested -

    Have a nice weekend ~

    1. I went through your link. Thanks for the same.