Walking with Giants: The Grizzlies of Siberia
A Sad Update

It is with great sadness that I write this update to all of you.

In May of 2003, Maureen and I arrived at our cabin in Kamchatka for our eighth year in the field, studying the bears chronicled in Walking with Giants. Rosie, Chico, and Biscuit had become part of our family, and we were excited and anxious to see how they were doing. What we found on our arrival was unimaginable: a bear gall bladder hanging on the wall. At first we refused to accept this proclamation as the barbarous message it was meant to be. But as time passed and we could find no trace of any of the bears we had come to know so well, we were forced to accept the meaning of the message: While we had been away for the winter, all our wonderful bears had been killed. Maureen and I could hardly function we were so devastated.

The loss of these bears plunged us deep into grief and anger, and we have struggled to understand the nature of the slaughter. Was this horrible and incontrovertible proof that bears are more adaptable and forgiving than people are? Had these bears been killed precisely because of our success with them?

In time, we would come to understand that it was the success of the ranger program we had funded to protect our bears that ended up being their undoing. People in Kamchatka had finally been coming around to the notion that a live bear was worth more to them than a poached bear. The World Heritage Site in which our cabin sits had long been a sanctuary for poachers, not wildlife, and someone clearly wanted a return to the old status quo.

I have not given up on the work in Kamchatka. From the time I learned that the efficiency of our ranger program was threatening enough to bring about the death of our bears, I have been looking into how I can possibly keep it functioning. I will find a way to continue on my own until some organization, agency or perhaps the Russian government itself, can relieve me.

Although the South Kamchatka Sanctuary, where we have lived with our bears for eight years, has been proclaimed a World Heritage Site, without some form of substantial protection the designation is meaningless. I am determined to find a way to give this wonderful area the care it deserves. As for our ranger program, some crucial aspects of the program have to be adjusted. In the spring of 2004 I will go to Moscow, then on to the Far East to attend meetings in Petropavlovsk.

I have also long seen a need in North America to help communities coexist with bears and other wildlife. I am working on an opportunity to apply much of what our bears taught us in Russia, to our everyday living with them here. I anticipate this will keep me busy for years.

I would like to thank all of you for your letters of concern and your calls for justice. They have helped Maureen and I make it through one of the most difficult times in our lives. It’s people like you who continue to spread the word, help make this world a friendlier place and give us conviction and perseverance to stay on course. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

- Charlie Russell

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If you’re interested in learning more about Charlie and Maureen’s bear research in Kamchatka, they’ve written two books on the subject: Grizzly Heart: Living Without Fear Among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka and Grizzly Seasons, the companion album of photos.

  • Penny Normandin

    I’m not surprised at what people are capable of. The word Human is a misnomer for people. I hope people can learn to live with animals, but think most can’t be bothered. A lot of misconceptions are still held by the authorities, trickling those beliefs down through the public.

  • Maria Sutherland

    While on holiday in Fernie, Canada I had the pleasure of reading Grizzly Heart it was in the Condo we were staying in .I could not put the book down and was deeply moved by it.I have been trying to find the follow up books to find out what happend to the bears.I am very glad to have found this website it has all I have been looking for.

  • Kate Malheiro

    This is totally unacceptable behavior by man. I am truly saddened to hear of this!

  • Mike Malheiro

    Ahhh man once again proves why he doesn’t deserve to share earth with the animals. I can only hope we are destroyed before we kill everything first.

  • Sunny

    After seeing the photo of Charlie sitting by a stream with Biscuit, I stumbled into cloudline and found myself reading the journals of Kamchatka late into the night and early morning.

    They were filled with love and humor when it came to the cubs, tempered with the humility and honesty of their woes with a rugged cabin, horrid weather, travel difficulties and red tape.

    I followed their story and that of their bears through the years and into the early morning. I felt like I had watched the bears grow up and looked forward with edge-of-my-seat eagerness to each new year’s worth of chronicles.

    2003 was heartbreaking. So much anticipation, potential, and love coming to an almost unbelievably cruel and bitter end. Only having known the bears for a day, the devastation at never seeing Biscuit with her cubs, she who had already shown she would be a wonderful mother from when she was a cub herself, was heartwrenching. I can only imagine Charlie and Maureen’s pain, having known the cubs for so many years.

    Thank you for this amazingly personal insight into not just bears, but how close and peaceful and fulfilling that human relationships with these magnificent creatures can be. Your story is one that will resonate with me for life. It goes beyond human-bear relationships. It’s a step towards reconnecting with a more natural relationship with the world and everything in it. Rebuilding the bridges is difficult work, but thank you Charlie and Maureen for showing us how to start.

  • joerg

    i just finished reading “grizzly heart” and wanted to get more information about the whole project. then i stumbled over this article and found my self crying on my couch. cant say what me real felings are, because i think i would get arrested for them. but grief and anger are pretty close to it. i felt so close to all the bears which where discribed so wonderfull by charlie and maureen. btw thanks for that wonderfull book and all your work!!!
    i know some time has passed but ireally would like to know how the story when out and what you guys are doing now. is that project still alive? are people able to help there from outside with spending money or doing what ever to help?
    if there is a chance let me know. i´m still stunned after reading theese dispicable news, even if there are nor “news” anymore.

    i´m not an english native speaker, but i hope my feelings and thinking became clear.

  • Victoria A

    I think it is terrible what people do to harmless animals.

  • Wayne

    Dear Charlie Russell and all the nice people who support you…

    What you have done to educate the people to understand the Bears and about animals is outstanding.

    I share what you all do…I experienced many situations that I have enjoyed with the animals all my life. The best memories an experiences I have, is being actually face to face with animals. All these animals know they do not need to fear me and vice verses… Seeing the so-called wild animals, and gazing into each other’s eyes and having the animal instinctively know I respect them, and the Smile that appears on the animals face is Priceless…

    KILLING animals for PROFITS IS ONE OF THE HIGHEST CRIMES in the universe. Those who do it and get their KICKS out of KILLING animals WILL HAVE A HIGHER Karmic DEBT TO PAY…

    Let us all whom believe we can and should live with all animals as our equals.

    Understand there is a DEBT for the people whom harm other animals and people …

    PSYCHOS WILL HAVE THEIR DAYS OF CRIMES and WRONGDOINGS!
    Karma WILL COME TO THE PSYCHOS!
    Russia has PSYCHOS. Canada has PSYCHOS, and the World has PSYCHOS!
    I FEAR HUMANS MORE THAN animals, PERIOD!

    Charlie, please contact me and let us have a chat.
    Your friend Wayne, in Calgary.

  • http://dddd-ztgbxcjgds-dsdsd.net Reyes Sughrue

    Yours pictures are very good,and have done a superior expression,very fantastic work!

  • Heather Lam

    Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do for these magnificent animals. I have the pleasure of owning Maureen Enns’ charcoal drawing of Brandy and her cubs entitled “As Good As it Gets”. I saw it for the first time in a gallery in the Rocky Mountains and it really affected me. It literally haunted me for many months until I finally contacted the gallery to purchase it. Sadly, one of the motivations for the purchase was that I had the thought that one day in the future we may no longer have these beautiful animals to share our world. In doing research on these bears I came across a website for a hunting company called Profihunt — their website and photos are heart-breaking and truly disturbing. How do we even start to bring together such disparate viewpoints – those, like yourselves, who wish to preserve and protect these bears versus those who view these animals as merely trophies to hang on their walls. I wish you success.

  • Melinda

    Dear Charlie and Maureen,

    Thank you for your soul work on this planet and your commitment to changing the distortions that humanity holds about bears. I thoroughly enjoyed your book “Grizzly Heart” and lived your joys, worries and disappointments right along with you. Your dedication on all levels of your being was inspiring to witness. You are both remarkable. What I wouldn’t give to have just one of the experiences you shared with Chico, Biscuit and Rosie. The journey, despite all it’s challenges, must have been extraordinary and I’m sure, beyond what can be conveyed in words.

    I feel deep sadness upon reading this. Yet, I can only imagine how the news tore through your hearts.

    May your convictions press you forward to continue to change the mind and hearts of all fearful beings. For you and the souls of your bear family, I’ll be chanting a prayer of healing. Thank you, all of you, for the gift of you.

  • Lesley Palma

    I am so sorry for your loss. To be confronted by this would be devastating. Sad, but true, for all the good work that is being done throughout the world for the protection of all animals, there is just as much cruelty. Maybe even more. But while there are people such as yourselves, there is hope of a greater magnitude for the welfare of animals. Let’s hold that thought and thank you both.

  • Ronny Birss

    When I saw how awful the late Timothy Treadwell was with Bears On Youtube, I’ve left many messages on his video that urge people that if they want to see someone who is a master with the Bear should watch your docementary, the Edge of Eden.
    Loved watching you with the Bears.
    One part that was comforting to me was when the rock slide happened and one of your bears got hit between the eyes to which you responded “Look, he thinks we did it” Amazingly when I was looking after my brothers chiuaua dog he hit his head of my glass coffee table and ran away yelping like deno on the flintstones. He got as far away from me as he could and hid under my bed. When I went to fish him out I could tell by his facial expression that he though I had hit him in the head. You are right that is a horrible feeling
    thanks
    ronny

  • Daniela Gadotti

    Charlie and Maureen, I finished reading your book “Grizzly Heart” maybe an hour ago. I had been searching for a resource such as this, how to live peacefully with bears, but amazingly I had not ever heard of the two of you, even more amazing as I spent so many years in Calgary…

    I now live in the Kootenays of British Columbia on land surrounded by crown land on three sides. When I first moved here, in 2009, as a city girl, and started waxing extatic about having bears right outside my cabin, some of my neighbors, veteran rural dwellers, explained to me the only acceptable way to deal with bears is to thoroughly scare them off so they don’t ever come back. Like wise all the literature I ever see for avoidance of bear-people conflicts puts emphasis on the scaring the bears off. I never bought into this, and I refuse to apply this supposed universal wisdom.

    For one thing, bears NEED passage through my land, to go from their higher foraging grounds to the river valley bottom. Unfortunately, all of the productive land at the bottom of the valleys is used up by humans, the deep dark forests of British Columbia don’t have much for a bear to eat most of the year. Since everyone else in the neighborhood scares bears off, I thought I’d let them have some rest on my property, so refrained from getting myself a dog, planted clover. Also I felt sure that I would be safer with calmer bears. Sooner or later I would forget to make my presence known as I walk around, and blunder upon an unsuspecting bear. Then a fearful bear might react defensively, whereas a calm bear would not. I was delighted to read in your book about some techniques that I had (re-)discovered on my own, the squeaky voice being one of them…and so on. Using such techniques I befriended some bears, and have been heart broken when they disappeard, very obviously killed by property owners or wildlife officer. I felt right away that not every bear that “has lost its fear” of humans is dangerous.

    I felt vindicated when this afternoon I read on page 343, “Mith three: A bear that does not demonstrate fear of humans is dangerous. I have always believed the opposite.”…etc. THANK YOU!!! The local newspapers are full of letters to the editor in the Fall and Spring about bears coning close that are an “obvious danger”.

    I love your list of “simple protocols” on page 345! so in another month or so I might contact you again and ask for permission to quote that list of yours in a letter to newspaper editors in defence of bears.

    Now on to what got me started here. Realizing the book was last updated in 2003, I came on line to see if there were any news re Chico and your grand-bear-children. The news of the gallbladder found pinned to your cabin… felt like a punch in the stomach. it had been bad enough what happened to Maureen’s foxes, but this! My heartfelt if belated condolences.

    Could we work on the problem from the other end? Attack the use of gallbladder in the same way as poaching of elephants was fought not so much against poachers but removing a legal market for ivory? Or for all I know it might be an illegal market already. Where I live nowthere is a large following for oriental traditional medicine. Every time someone waxes extatic about traditional Cinese medicine I make a point of bringing up the horrible market in wild animals organs that traditional oriental medicine is responsible for. But admittedly I don’t know much about it, or if there is a difference between “folksy remedies” and “traditional” oriental medicine.

    Congratulations on having achieved such impressive results and best wishes for the future.
    Daniela Gadotti

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