Living on The Edge of Eden | DrumhellerMail
Last updateThu, 22 Feb 2024 3pm

Living on The Edge of Eden

charlie-russell.jpgConservationist, naturalist, advocate and defender Charlie Russell, has spent most of his life working with the most “ferocious” animal of folklore, the legendary grizzly bear.
At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, October 27, the world renowned activist will be at the showing of his latest documentary, The Edge of Eden, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum as part of The Reel Alternative, and will be fielding questions and signing copies of his three books and movie.

Charlie Russell has dedicated the past 47 years of his life studying and living with the creature that people have been trained to fear.
“We have built up this fear that makes us feel good when we kill these animals. Even in national parks here they have used methods of fear to separate us.”
Charlie Russell has clearly displayed bears are compassionate, watching his movie and reading his books you see how they build relationships with him and actually enjoy his company.
The bears play with him, let him pet them, and sleep next to him, a sign in animals of complete trust.
Growing up on the family ranch in southern Alberta, the son of well-known film maker Andy Russell, was accustomed to seeing bears.
“My interest started in 1961, when my father invited me and my brother to work with him with the filming of the first serious documentary on bears in the wild. What I saw was that the animal is much different than what we are told. They are very intelligent, peace loving animals,” Charlie said.
Charlie Russell explained bears in North America are raised to be scared of humans, because we have become synonymous in their mind with the sounds of rifles and conflict.
“I wanted to find somewhere that the population of bears are relatively untouched,” and that road led to South Kamchatka, Russia’s peninsula on the east coast of the country.
Charlie has been living in Russia on and off since 1994 to 2007.
“The bears there have never really had contact with the human world. For seven years no one interfered with me and my project.”
His motivation for studying in Russia was to answer two questions surrounding bears; that they are unpredictable and will turn against humans for no reason, and that if they lose their fear of humans, they become dangerous.
“My motivation for all of this was to right this misunderstanding about bears.”
His research has shown both of these myths are false.
“Bears are very compassionate, loving creatures,” Charlie said, speaking with love and admiration of their kind. In Kamchatka, Charlie told The Mail he had built a relationship with a mother and her cubs, something unusual because mother bears are highly protective of her young.
“Females are the most receptive to building trust, one trusted me enough to leave me with her cubs to baby-sit. They have an extremely intelligible adaptiveness to learn to trust someone. At first they were crying for their mom, but after awhile they learned to love me and would come running to see me after that.”
“They can be very dangerous, but once they trust someone, I almost get the feeling they would even protect me,” Charlie said.
He explained in Russia there is a terrible amount of poaching. “Some Russian officials can be bought off easily, and hunters can do whatever they want.”
Poachers kill the bears for their gallbladders, to be sold on the Asian black market for medicinal purposes.
“It is an extremely large waste to kill and leave an animal just for a gallbladder,” Charlie said.
He has set up an organization called Cloudline Coexistence which hopes to convince the Russian government to stop the poaching.
“It has been a very slow progress. It is an amazing privilege (to work in Kamchatka), although it is a hassle with the bureaucracy. The USSR had recently fallen, and they didn’t know what to do, I came at a time when it was very disorganized. No one wanted me to do this study  to find the other side of the issue.”
His efforts have not been without rewards.
“We have started a program to fund Russian park rangers to have them come to Canada to be trained.” Charlie also mentioned there are a few “amazing Russians” who have helped raise money to combat the problem of poaching.
There is still a long road to walk to achieve complete coexistence with bears, if it is even possible, but at 67 years-old, Charlie Russell has done more towards this goal than anyone else has.
When asked about future projects, Charlie said, “my project remains the same because I set out to change the way people think about these animals. I studied the bear so I could make statements about them that are true. Now, I still have the same goal, but I am working on the people side of it now, to try and change the way people think about how we can manage them nicer and in a better way.”
"There may be another book in there somewhere,” Charlie laughed, “I will be doing this for the rest of my life.”
Ingrid Thornton, a Drumheller Public Library board member, is excited to be having someone like Charlie Russell come to Drumheller. “He’s drawing attention to a very good cause, that has to do with the environment as a whole.”
“Not too many people are that devoted. He’s given his life to this cause and made big strides,” Mrs. Thornton said.
Charlie Russell will be at the  Royal Tyrrell Museum on Monday, October 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the Drumheller Public Library.

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