Charlie Russell

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I will always remember the phone call I received from Charlie Russell one evening in late September of 2003. By that time we had known one another for a few years already, so a phone conversation wasn’t unusual or unexpected. The reason I will always remember this chat more than many others, is because at some point during this call, Charlie asked me if I wanted to help him out next summer with his bear project at the cabin he and Maureen Enns had built on the shore of Kambalny Lake at the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula. I was stunned! “Why me?” shot through my head, followed instantly with an excited and resounding “YES”.

I had just fallen in love with this nature paradise in this remote corner of the Russian Far East, working on bear related projects for several months during the summer of 2003. There was no way I would decline this amazing opportunity to return so soon!

At the time I did not know that during this summer we would adopt and rehabilitate five orphaned brown bear cubs. Not only would I spend an entire summer with Charlie Russell, the man that, similar to Dian Fossey with the mountain gorillas, had shown the world that bears are too often misunderstood. But that I would do that in a place so primordial that the trails we were moving on, were worn down into the bed rock by hundreds and thousands of bear paws. The icing on the cake of this proposal was the immense privilege I would have of being intimately close to five little rowdy brown bears every single day for several months.

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While I certainly drew from Charlie’s extensive experience with bears over so many years, my primary teachers this summer turned out to be these five little rambunctious fur balls.

Sky, Buck, Wilder, Geena and Sheena came from two separate litters and were orphaned by poachers in Kamchatka. Even though I already had years of experience among bears at this point, it was difficult for me to imagine how exactly we would be accepted by these little poor but playful souls, which were given this wonderful second chance at a life in the wilds.  

How and why would a little intelligent bear cub follow us on walks through the wild and return home again, when it could simply run away and be free? 

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How could we teach them what a real mother bear teaches their young during their first two or three summers?

Answers to these and to many other questions I had at the beginning of this project, you will find in the book “Ungezähmt” I wrote about my summer with Charlie in 2004 (unfortunately only in German) and/or in the film documentary “Die Suche nach Sky” produced by SRF (also only in German but the images speak for themselves).

In the wilderness is the salvation of the world.

Henry David Thoreau