Russell, Charles 1941(?)- (Charlie Russell)
RUSSELL, Charles 1941(?)-
Born c. 1941; son of Andy Russell (a naturalist and author); partner of Maureen Enns (a photographer and artist).
Home—Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House of Canada, One Toronto St., Unit 300, Toronto, Ontario M5C 2V6, Canada.
Naturalist and photographer. Former rancher and wilderness guide.
Spirit Bear, Canadian Geographic/Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
(With Maureen Enns and Fred Stenson) Grizzly Heart: Living without Fear among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka, Random House Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
(With Maureen Enns) Grizzly Seasons: Life with the Brown Bears of Kamchatka, Random House Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
Some writings appear under the name Charlie Ruseell.
In work that echoes the interests of his naturalist father Andy Russell, Charles Russell has gone to great lengths to show that people can live safely among wild bears. He has worked in his native Canada and on the Kamchatka peninsula of far Eastern Russia, interacting with bears, including the feared grizzly. He has even been dubbed the "bear whisperer." Russell and his partner Maureen Enns, an artist and photographer, believe that respectful behavior can lead to remarkable relationships with bears, and have published several books of writings and photography documenting their own experiences. They have also worked to protect the habitats of bears and to promote anti-poaching programs.
In Spirit Bear Russell recounts his interactions with a Kermode bear on Canada's Princess Royal Island. A white variant of the black bear, this animal became familiar with Russell and his colleagues. Not only did the Spirit Bear fish and sleep with them, it allowed Russell to tickle it between the toes. In a review for Nature Canada, Theresa Aniskowicz commented that "the story … truly stretches the reader's credulity." Astounded by the book's photographs, she said that the text "gives plenty of reason to change preconceived notions about bear aggression."
Russell and Enns have published two books about the eight summers they spent on the Kamchatka peninsula, which has the densest population of brown bears in the world. Russell hoped that the remote, often inhospitable, location would give him access to bears who had little or no contact with humans, but he found that even these bears had a conditioned fear. The couple's subsequent experiences there reinforced their love of bears and their belief in safe cohabition. However, they also learned how deeply their views conflict with those of others, including scientists and hunters.
Grizzly Heart: Living without Fear among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka tells the story of how difficult it was to get permission from Russian officials for their experiments and how they came to adopt three orphaned grizzly cubs in 1997. Chico, Biscuit, and Rosie were successfully returned to the wild, but later showed a continued trust in Russell and Enns. The book also highlights the techniques the couple use to maintain healthy relationships with bears, which include no feeding, using an electric fence around living quarters and food storage, and using the voice to reassure bears that they are friendly.
Russell's story turns darker in Grizzly Seasons: Life with the Brown Bears of Kamchatka. Upon returning to the Russian cabin in 2003, he discovered that a huge number of bears had been killed near the site. A bloody gall bladder was tacked to the front door, as a message to researchers that their work was not welcome. Sport hunting of grizzlies and poaching for gall bladders, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, posed a great danger to the couple and their work. The trust the bears had shown was shattered and their former adoptee Biscuit was suspected to have died because of her unusual trust in humans. In an article for the Mail on Sunday, Caroline Graham explained that it is a "heartrending story" as well as "one of the most controversial scientific studies ever undertaken." According to some scientists, Russell and Enns are simply lucky to have lived safely among the bears, unlike photographer Michio Hoshino, who was killed in 1996 when a grizzly attacked him in the same region. Russell's feelings of guilt about the bear massacre contrast painfully with the joy he found in their company. "Until you have walked with a wild grizzly bear, you have not truly lived," he told Graham.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alberta Report, November 2, 1998, p. 29.
Maclean's, November 25, 2002, "Living with Grizzly Bears: A Canadian Couple Challenges the Animals' Reputation as Ferocious Killers," p. 58.
Mail on Sunday, August 3, 2003, Caroline Graham, "Who Murdered Biscuit the Bear?," p. 45.
Nature Canada, August, 1995, Theresa Aniskowicz, "Playing with Wild Bears," p. 48.*