60 Minutes blog

Allison Langdon: A Bizarre Encounter

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How is this for a bizarre first meeting? Arriving at Doug Seus' home in Utah, we walk around a corner into his backyard to find the 70-year-old lazing in a plastic arm chair. There's nothing strange about that. We take another two steps, and stop in our tracks … there in front of us sits a 700kg grizzly bear, about two metres from Doug's feet!

This is the first time that I have seen a grizzly bear and I'm not overly comfortable with there being no fence or safety barrier between us and Bart the Bear. Doug is oblivious to our alarm, straight out of his chair he yells: "Hey, the Aussies are here", and starts rolling around with the grizzly.

Doug Seus is a larger-than-life character. You can't help but love him the moment you meet him. He's passionate about bears, and conserving their natural habitat. In fact, I reckon he could be half grizzly himself! His connection with Bart the Bear has to be seen to be believed, it's incredibly physical and emotional. Doug happily puts his head inside Bart's very large mouth but, make no mistake about it, Doug is top bear in this relationship! He's always in control although at times it certainly doesn't look that way.

My initial interview with Doug was like no other, here I was competing with an enormous potential man eater for Doug's attention. I'd ask Doug a question, say: "How do you train a 700kg animal to do as you ask?", when Bart would flick his paw through Doug's legs and take him for a tumble, or try to pull Doug's shirt off. It was manic but highly entertaining watching Doug as he got Bart to do yoga, sit, roar and roll over. Bears are incredibly intelligent animals that respond to verbal commands and body language.

You've probably seen some of Doug's work in Hollywood. His first bear, also named Bart, starred in dozens of blockbusters – including "The Edge" with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, "Windwalker", "The Bear" and "Legends of the Fall". Doug actually played Brad Pitt's body double in the final scene of "Legends of the Fall", where Pitt's character is killed by a bear. The Bart we met, who was happily rolling around with Doug, has most recently starred in the film "We Bought A Zoo" with Matt Damon. If anyone in Hollywood wants a bear in their film, Doug is the man they turn to. He's the bear whisperer!

By Doug's side on his beautiful farm in Utah is his gorgeous wife, Lynne. She believes the only difference between Doug and his bears is that one has two legs, the other four! But Doug and Lynne are about far more than just teaching their bears tricks for Hollywood, they're determined to save grizzly bears in the wild. Grizzly numbers, particularly in all the 48 mainland US states below Alaska, are perilously low. That's why the Seus' are using the money they've made from Hollywood to buy back bear habitat. They've established "Vital Ground" a non-profit organisation that has so far purchased 640 thousand acres of land as wilderness corridors for grizzlies and other wildlife.

While Doug and Lynne are focused on saving the bear's habitat in the United States, the best place to see grizzlies in the wild is Knight Inlet, Canada – so that's where we took Doug. Knight Inlet is one of the most picturesque places I've been to, so green with snow-capped mountains, and very few people. I should point out that wildlife shoots are notoriously difficult. There's no guarantee you'll see the animal you're looking for, they can be easily spooked, and the weather is always temperamental. So when Doug and I set off in two kayaks, with the producer Nick Greenaway, cameraman Scott Morelli and sound recordist Jason McCauley in a separate boat, and no promise of seeing grizzlies in the wild, we were feeling a little apprehensive.

It took us a few hours, but we eventually came across a mother grizzly and her two cubs down by the river's edge. Magnificent! Being so young, the cubs were skittish, but their mother didn't appear too fazed by our presence. We could have sat there for hours just watching them. If we got too close the cubs would scamper off into the bushes, but it was never long before they returned to their mother's side.

All in all a very successful day shooting, but we wanted more.

The next day, it was decided that Doug and I would go on land with the grizzlies and see just how close we could get without upsetting them. This time we came across a male and female grizzly – again by the side of the river. The female could not have cared less about us being there, however, the male felt we were on his turf and wasn't happy. As I watched him through Doug's binoculars, he stomped twice and bluff charged.

Doug had told me over and over again that if a bear charges, hold your ground, don't run. I wish I could say I did as I was told, but honestly if Doug didn't have me by the scruff of the neck, I would've been out of there. I won't mention here that Jason McCauley the sound recordist, who was standing some distance behind Doug and I, took off at a pace that would challenge Usain Bolt. I could mention it, but I won't!

Now, the funny thing about a bluff charge is this – you don't know the grizzly is bluffing until they stop running at you. I aged 10 years that day, and it took a strong gin and tonic – in fact several - to calm my nerves that night.

Like so many of my 60 Minutes assignments, this experience will remain with me for a long time. I imagine how the story about us being charged by a grizzly will be exaggerated over time, how I didn't flinch as it charged towards me, and how I stared it down until it cowered, and ran away.

But very quickly back on subject, the work that Doug Seus and his wife Lynne are doing to save the grizzlies is truly inspiring. We need grizzly bears for a healthy ecosystem, so if you can, please support Doug and Lynne's charity, Vital Ground.

User comments
As these bears can't be put back to the wild, I am overjoyed that Doug and his Mrs have taken them in and trained them to be hollywood animal stars. They are so well loved and taken care of and I am mesmorised when I see Doug play with Little Bart & Honey Bump. I loved Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt and as much as people think it's cruel that these animals are in the movies, I think that the animals enjoy it. It's a million times better than being in a zoo, let's face it and there's no chance of being shot by hunters.
Dear Bart and Doug fans, like you I share a deep passion for these incredible animals and was touched by the Seus's story. In 2008 I launced the first issue of Bare Essentials an online open-access publication inspired by Vital Ground. It is a platform for wildlife conservation foundations including Vital Ground to share incredible stories, photos that inspire people to support preservation efforts to save our wild heritage. I invite you to enjoy and share the magazine with your friends, and discover the beauty of nature! Please also visit our Wildlife Warriors Initiative, a resource and fundraising catalyst for conservation. You can register an event for Vital Ground, or join a campaign like 'Dares for Bears' and go on a grand adventure for the grizzliy! wildlife-warriors.com Enjoy our latest issue at bare-essential.com.au Chief Editor Inga Yandell Bare Essentials Magazine Seek Adventure, Save Wildlife!
Great show- Thank-you
This human needs to be trained to save the bears without a fee, namely their enslavement in Hollywood.
Hi, I have allways been in luv with the bears and their antics and after watching the report are even more determined to go see these magnificent creatures in there own enviroment, and maybe meet the couple themselves. It was a wonderful story, keep them coming..
I was absolutely captivated from the moment this story began. Both my 5yo daughter and I were glued to the screen watching Doug, Lynne and their magnificent bears. We love the big bears but knew that they could be extremely dangerous. To see one so powerful being so gentle, so playful and so obedient (in the nicest possible way), was absolutely amazing.
I cant believe how irresponsible Alison was to her safety with the bears, you are very lucky you didn't get attacked - I would thnk differently next time you may not be so lucky.
I couldnt beleive it when i saw this story on 60 Minutes tonight. I went into Captive Animal Management, and soon to do vet nursing and zoology. I cant wait until im working over seas with such amazing animals. As i saw on the t.v, Bart the 2nd behaves similar to my Red-Nosed Pittbull. I was moved by the way Doug wrestled with Bart. Because its the same way i behave with my animals. Showing them they are not a pet, but accepting them as 1 of the familly. And its more rewarding if you have a connection with the animal. Its more than just feeding, or keeping a pet. Its about loving your family member also. I grew up around animals, ive rescued birds to Kangaroos. And this guy Doug, is living my dream. Good on ya mate
I missed tonight's interview with Allison Langdon and the Bear Man. If there is somewhere to watch online I would love to see it thanks.
Well done Allison. This would have to be one of the best 60 minutes stories that I have watched. There was nothing staged in this interview. The bears are amazing animals, and their homes should be saved. Doug Sues is a remarkable person. Good work 60 minutes.

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