charlie russell spent eleven years in russia’s far east living with and raising grizzly cubs orphaned by poachers. the cubs were being held at a zoo in petropavlovsk that was about to shoot them now that they had outgrown their small cages.
charlie built a small cabin in the foothills of the south kamchatka sanctuary, accessible only by the small plane he built and taught himself to fly, where he raised ten cubs with his partner, and the photographer of these photos, maureen enns. his goal was to see if he could earn the trust of the bears. in this, he was so successful that he was sometimes left to babysit the cubs of other mothers.
charlie’s years of living with the bears was the culmination of a lifetime spent filming and exploring the realities of the grizzlies in the wild, which began with his childhood in alberta’s rocky mountains. he has learned that the bears are not inherently dangerous to humans or unpredictable, but that our fear and distrust of the animal has taught them to fear and distrust us. bears that are given no reason to fear humans are willing to be friendly, he says, but the culture of hunting has made them aggressive.
sadly, one day in 2003, charlie returned to his cabin expecting to find the bears emerging from hibernation only to discover a bear gal bladder hanging on the wall. poachers had killed his cubs and sent him a message to counter the one told by his time in kamchatka. “for people to feel good about killing these animals that i find so wonderful, you have to insist they are dangerous and want to hurt us,” he says.
in the past 100 years, 91 humans have been killed by grizzle bears. in that same span of time, more than 200,000 grizzly bears have been killed by humans. charlie russell is the focus of a pbs nature (on tumblr) episode, 'walking with giants', a bbc ‘natural world’ documentary, 'bear man of kamchatka', and the edge of eden - living with grizzlies