60 Minutes blog

Liam Bartlett: The Bear Man

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Knowing that we were set to spend time with a man who allows wild bears into his kitchen, I couldn’t help but assume that Charlie Vandergaw was going to be a touch insane.

My preconceived ideas, however, were turned on their head after only a few hours of meeting, talking and laughing with Charlie and experiencing a slice of his unique existence in remote Alaska.

Considered, softly-spoken and compassionate, Charlie is really a more intellectual version of Grizzly Adams.

If it wasn’t for the unpredictable nature of the wild bears that keep him company, he’d be the sort of grandfather figure you would be happy to send your kids to in the holidays.

And that was the most troubling part of our 60 minutes adventure with Charlie.

Despite their docile, almost huggable appearance, we had to keep reminding ourselves that the bears were wild animals and, as such, were capable of turning or lashing out, for whatever reason, at a moment’s notice.

To be fair, Charlie was also quick to reinforce that point at numerous times during our filming but because he was so comfortable, and so calm, in their presence it was easy to treat them the same way you would respond to a large family dog.

LEFT: The wound Richard Terry suffered, just minutes after being bitten.
RIGHT: Charlie helping Richard dress the wound two days later.

Fortunately, our encounters did not prompt any adverse reactions, with cameraman Greg Barbera and sound recordist Glenn Fitzpatrick calmly weathering the bear’s close interest in their equipment.

However, the inherent dangers were brought home to us only hours after arriving when one of the bears decided to lash out.

Richard Terry is an English cameraman making a television series on Charlie’s life for Animal Planet and has been documenting all the action at ‘Bear Haven’ for the past month.

In this part of the world the sun doesn’t set till late at night, so, while we were sitting down to dinner at the end of the first day, Richard decided he would grab a few shots of a large female bear herding her year-old cub up a tree, just metres from the cabin.

Charlie had dubbed the mother bear ‘Annie’ and the cub ‘Peanut’ the previous summer and while we watched through the window, Richard absent-mindedly put himself between them, in a low fork of the tree.

Annie obviously decided he was in the way and gave him a quick ‘nip’ to convince him to move. Seconds later, he was inside, removing a punctured heavy-duty boot and a well-bloodied sock. The result, as you can see in our “Slide Shows”, is not pretty.

Thankfully, when we left three days later, it had not become infected but it could so easily have been a lot worse. Richard knew he had been silly and was mad at himself for becoming complacent. For us, it was a timely reminder of how careful we needed to be.

In the wilds of Alaska, with the nearest road some 40 kilometres away, the idea of a major problem was daunting.

Although it was certainly offset by the surreal nature of witnessing bear after bear walking out of the woods and onto the verandah of Charlie’s summer cabin. For an eye-opening experience that could not repeated anywhere in the world, time with Charlie and his bears was unforgettable. But for peace of mind and body, give me Humphrey any day.

User comments
AFTER WATCHING THE DOCUMENTARY ON TV AS WELL AS PARTS OF THE SHOW ONLINE I CAN SEE ON BOTH SIDES WHY IT IS A GOOD OR BAD THING TO PUT YOURSELF AMONGST WILD ANIMALS. HOWEVER WHERE CHARLIE DID SET UP HIS 'BEAR HAVEN' IF THE ONLY WAY OF GETTING THERE WAS BY PLANE THE BEARS HE HAD CONTACT WITH WERE NOT REALLY LIKELY TO COME INTO CONTACT WITH OTHER HUMANS AS ONCE THEY WOKE FROM HIBERNATING THEY WERE RETURNING TO WHERE THEY KNEW AND HAD HE NOT BEEN RETURNING YEAR AFTER YEAR THE 20 PLUS BEARS THAT HE DID FEED WOULD HAVE BEEN ELSEWHERE STILL LOOKING FOR FOOD. IF THAT'S WHAT CHARLIE WANTED TO DO FOR HIS SUMMER WHY SHOULD HE NOT BE ALLOWED. SURELY IT'S NO DIFFERENT TO 'LION MAN' OR 'LION FAMILY' OR THE OTHER SHOWS ON ANIMAL PLANET WHERE PEOPLE ARE DOING THE EXACT SAME THING LIVING WITH WILD ANIMALS. IN THE LION MAN THIS ALSO RESULTED IN SOMEONE UNFORTUNATELY LOSING THEIR LIFE. THESE SHOWS ARE SHOWING YOUNG KIDS THAT LIONS ARE AS FRIENDLY AS PETS, WHY THE DOUBLE STANDARD??
Charlie you are a true inspiration to this world and if a petition does go around - I will be the first to sign.
Charlie, my "hat is off to you", you are quite an inspiration. God has put us here on this earth to live in harmony with each other to include animals. It was so clear that you have bonded with your bears and it is clear that this took a lot of time and passion to achieve. You have gained so much within your life, for you have shown many others that humans can live in the same environment with what is considered a wild dangerous animal. I do NOT see the harm, I see the love you have for your bears, for you have nutured the cubs to adults, cookie is precious. I would love to be able to have a big "bear hug", feeling like I had really personally accomplished so much within nature. Sometimes our direction in life can be so difficult, you have seen success and no one can ever take that from you. A leap of faith, I would like to invite you to our web sites to learn of another leap of faith when so many thought I was so wrong. www.KARE2004.com www.end-KAREcentre.com God Bless
I would appreciate it if 60 Minutes would pass on my comments to Charlie the Bear Man. You can't help but be impressed by Charlie and his relationship with both black and the grizzly (brown) bear. He has spent a lot of time dedicating his life to his love of them. I thought that his relationship with the adult female grizzly, who attacked him, had been compromised by the film crew. She even came back to say good bye on the last day, and seemed to hang around for some time to say good bye, but as the film crew were still there, she was very unhappy and would not allow Charlie to get close or visa versa. Please don't give up Charlie, and yes fear is your friend.
It makes me so furious when you hear of bears being shot because their getting to close to humans.Humans think that they are so superior to any other living thing and yet they build there houses so close to what little bushland any wild animals have left to live in.I think if people want to continue to keep cutting down trees they should have to live with it.Why should they have to pay for our stuff ups.Lets face it he has a better aproach to bears than most people.
I could go on and on about how I feel but I will just say these couple things. Yes, in one way the bears are becoming to close to humans and could cause a potential danger, but it could also be positive if we were to come face to face with one of these charlie esk bears, that they might not let there wild instinct take over and to leave us be. Last thing whats different then Timothy Treadwell and Charlie, Charlie has said it many times. He lets these wild bears come to him in his enviroment but still in the wild. He didn't go out into there wild land and disturb their habitat. He knows he is putting his life out there to be taken and that is his discion. Police officers and fire fighters do it everyday. So good luck to you Charlie and your fight to keep Bear Haven alive. If you need any support at all you can count on me! You have a gift unlike any other.
I watched the program on the Outsiders last night and was amazed at the interaction of Charlie and the bears at Bear Haven. I just pray that Charlie will continue to have a long life with the bears and hope that he has made arrangements for someone else to look after the bears when he is gone. I would hate to know that they would be killed for being so trusting.
Does anyone remember the plight of Timothy Treadwell??? He did exactly what Charlie Vandergaw is doing now - trying to think they can be friends with a wild animal. And as Ron from Australia said in his entry, Timothy was eaten by what he thought was his "friend". These are wild animals, and anyone who thinks they are one with a wild animal is playing with a wild, unpredictable, and deadly beast. They should be treated with respect as such, and be prepared to pay the consequences if they don't. Timothy Treadwell is testamont to this.
The story on the "Bear Man" not only has shown us what is out there,but has given us a wonderful insight into our world.Being apart of Generation "Y" we have only ever watched but not learnt. This story really opened my eyes to this worlds unknown beauty's. Thankyou for this marvellous story.
fantastic if only we could all live so peacefully with nature at our door!

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