"The Man Who Lives With
The Man Who Lives With Bears, the story of Charlie Vandergraw
Response By John Teel
I think what this video shows is the immense tolerance
of bears. It also shows that bears simply do not see humans as a food
source. His story, like Treadwell's, makes it seem like bears are really
dangerous and being safe around them takes a special skill and years of
experience. That's completely untrue! Lets give credit where it's due,
and that is to the bears. Having spent considerable time myself in close
to proximity to grizzlies I can attest to the fact that its the
tolerance of the bears that make this possible and not some special
talent or years of experience.
I won't even get started how I feel about him actually
being a bear hunter at one time! I can't comprehend the mind of someone
who could EVER kill a bear for pleasure. Of course, I think its absurd
that he feeds wild bears and I can't imagine what he hopes to
accomplish. It's most unfortunate that his first name is Charlie because
I would hate for people to confuse his work with that of Charlie
Bears don't need our food they need our protection and
It's an interesting video but personally I don't care
for its message: That bears are dangerous and that it takes years of
experience to coexist with them. Anyone can learn to peacefully coexist
with bears. The National Park Service spends 20 minutes educating
tourists about bear safety in Brooks (Katmai) before allowing them to
walk freely with wild grizzlies wondering every where. They've never had
a single injury so it must be sufficient training.
Its most unfortunate that bears always seem to attract
people like Treadwell and this guy.
Reply by Steve Stringham
John has some interesting ideas. Are they universally
valid, or only under special circumstances?
They are definitely accurate currently in certain
areas of the Katmai Coast such as Hallo Bay and the tidal area of
But behavior of bears in those areas is vastly
different today than it was 36 years ago when I began observations
there. And it is vastly different in other areas even today. Hallo Bay,
Swikshak, and a few other areas along the coast have huge meadows where
bears can usually see people at long distances, minimizing risk of
surprise close encounters. Nearly all people encountered by the bears
are viewers who want to watch them peacefully. Those bears have thus
lost their fear of aggression by people. And they have retained some
respect for people, if only because most visitors are in groups of at
least 4-6 individuals -- which makes bears more cautious toward people
and makes people more confident. Furthermore, those bears have plenty of
meat and other food during the period when most visitors come to Katmai.
Also, few visitors carry food that is highly attractive to bears, which
would otherwise make some bears more assertive, leading to some people
acting more timidly, which can quickly erode ursine respect for people.
Under those circumstances, John is right that little skill is required
to observe them at relatively close range.
However, in areas where bears have not learned to
trust people, or where they have little respect for people, or where
people have food they want, bear-human relations tend to be vastly
different. Even worse are areas where bears have little access to meat
except for occasional predation or scavenging on ungulates such as moose
or caribou. Trying to observe bears in the Arctic the way we do at
Katmai is far far riskier.
When I began observation of bears at Katmai in 1972,
most of the bears I encountered were very disturbed at encountering
people, provoking intensive defensive threats (jaw popping, huffing,
lunge-swat threats, rush-threats, etc.). So too, when they encountered
anglers carrying fish, the bears were very bold and demanding of the
fish, which scared most anglers into dropping their fish. No one was
injured, but I don't know anyone who wouldn't be very frightened by the
experience; and doing the wrong thing could have had terrible
The only people seriously injured, much less killed by
a bear at Katmai have been Treadwell and his lady. Contrary to the
official view, I doubt the bear that killed them was initially
predatory. Rather, Tim emerging from his tent in an aggressive mood
likely triggered the attack. Once a bear is chewing on a person, it
sometimes shifts from disciplining the victim to eating him/her. Tim had
a fair understanding of bear behavior under Katmai conditions. And he
got away with a lot of aggression toward bears until he ran into some
big boars that had little tolerance for his rudeness.
Risk tends to be much higher in the vicinity of salmon
streams where people and bears walk through thick vegetation looking for
fish and where surprise close encounters are common -- as on the Russian
River on the Kenai Peninsula.
Skill in bear-human encounters is lowest where and
when bears are most tolerant. But skill and judgment can be essential in
other circumstances -- even at Hallo Bay or Swikshak during the rut.
During that season, there is intense competition for status among bears.
Big boars initiate most of the competition toward one another. Losers
then redirect their aggression toward lower-ranking bears, sometimes
including adult females or adolescents of either sex. And so on down the
line, like dominos. Some bears then try bullying people the same way
they bully other bears. People who are alone or occasionally who are in
pairs, are fair game. The same bears that act like giant teddy bears
under other circumstances can be quite unpleasant during the rut.
Dealing with these encounters successfully can indeed require
As much as I enjoy guiding viewers at Katmai, I am
always disturbed by the way many viewers jump to the conclusion that
what they see is typical of bears, and that they can expect similar
encounters any place they meet a bear. Anyone who closely studies the
history of bear attacks can quickly verify that not all attacks are the
result low tolerance for people.
Safe bear-human coexistence requires
* high tolerance of bears for people and vice versa
* people acting so as to maximize trust and respect for people
* people understanding that bullying bears is not the best way to
maximize respect, much less trust
* people knowing how to defuse tense encounters -- which in turn depends
on accurate assessment of a bear's mood and intentions.
Basic techniques are detailed in the book ALASKA
MAGNUM BEAR SAFETY MANUAL which is available at bear-viewing-in-alaska.info
Books & Videos or on amazon.com
More advanced techniques are detailed in WHEN BEARS
WHISPER, DO YOU LISTEN? NEGOTIATING CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH WILD BRUINS
which is in press and should be out later this year.
As to Charlie Vandergaw: he does have considerable
skill with bears. Yes, his success does depend on ursine tolerance. It's
achieving that level of tolerance which requires great skill, coupled
with years of interaction with the same individual bears. Whatever else
Charlie has done, he has opened a window into seeing aspects of
bear-human relations above and beyond what anyone else has done,
including Lynn Rogers, Terry DeBruyn, Ben Killham, Charlie Russell or
Reply by Brenden Garrett
I think you're both making good points; what the
program implied was that bears are dangerous and deadly and that you
somehow have "years of experience" in carefully knowing how to interact
with them in order to not get killed, and as you have both indicated,
it's not about some sort of level of high merit or experience, it's
about the bears and the human being on level grounds of tolerance.
Now as John said it's not about the human having to
have some sort of "magic touch" resulting from years of rigorous
experience with bears; it's just required that he have tolerance for
them and know a few simple key social etiquette rules understood; things
that are intuitive and logical and not requiring years of learning; but
only a few minutes or hours.
Now as Steve makes clear this is only half important;
as the bear has to have tolerance for the human as well; and clearly not
all bears in all areas have the same attitudes and tolerance towards
human beings; some interact peacefully with them while some are
accustomed to humans being a source of easy food; or see them as weak;
fearful pushovers or aggressive and cruel enemies.
But I do think this means it pretty much comes down to
how the bears learn to see people in the first place; when they only
have peaceful; kind experience from the human as Charlie has
demonstrated in Kamchatka the relationship between our species can be
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