Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

April 17, 2007


Web Entry for April 10th, 2007.
I am sometimes at a loss as to how I can use this Web Site as a means to keep everyone informed as to what I am doing. The problem has been that I don’t want everyone to know what I am doing. There are a few people here in Russia that I would just as soon were a bit in the dark about where I am and what I am doing. I apologize to the rest of you who are truly interested and have probably clicked into this page and found no updates. I also have not been quite sure what to tell you about what I am doing, because I couldn’t figure it out myself, but here is an update. There are a few things that you have to get by reading between the lines or later when things are not in the delicate planning stage but really happening I will be more communicative.

I have been back in Russia since the middle of March. My friend Igor Revenko came with me for the first 10 days as an interrupter who understands my thinking and as an consultant. As you might remember, Igor was the person who understood the kind of place that I was looking for to do my bear study back in 1994 and then helped me get started at Kambalnoye Lake.

It has never been planned that I could go and see my bears this trip. It is very expensive to do that because of very high cost of helicopter. Anyway, the chances of seeing them on a short visit would be slim and I had decided that before I do any more work with rehabilitating bears, I want to know that they will be safe.

My Russian assistant Irina Kruglakova had set up many meetings for us. She has been keeping things together for me here in Kamchatka while I have been stuck in Canada because of not having the funding to come back here to work with the bears after the documentary film was completed by BBC in 2005.

These meetings were for me to asses if there was anything left for me to do in Russia. I have been having a difficult time getting lined out on the big job in the rest of the world where there are bears, but before I could put undistracted attention towards working well elsewhere, I had to either be able to say goodbye to Russia or find a way to meaningfully protect South Kamchatka where I have been working all these years. I have felt that protection for this place is the most important thing on my wish list yet to be done, but realistically it was going to be all but impossible for anyone to achieve it.

What I have found out is that from most aspects the situation seems even worse than when I left and that is saying a lot. Thanks to Irina and Igor I have been able to meet with the whole spectrum of people from the protectors to the poaching brokers who have worked out the ways to get and market all the illegal products.

On the poaching side, things look incredibly well organized. From the protection standpoint everything is still very disorganized. However, something has recently happened that I have never seen the likes of before. There is a new person as director of the UNDP. This name is Nikolai Maleshin who is as determined as I am to find a way to do something meaningful to protect Kamchatka. We have become good friends. Before he came to this job, he was the director of several of the most important Preserves across Russia.

He knows a lot about what works in his country as well as many of the pitfalls. Five of us, including Nikolai’s wife Tatiana, have met many times at Irina’s home to have a look at everything we can think of to come up with a strategy.

This is where I have to become vague. The problem is that the Web is available to everyone and there are many people who’s best interest lie in keeping the status quo ticking along and I know that a few of these people are on my automatic update notification list. From a protection standpoint the status quo does not interest this group in the least who I am working with and to publicize our plan at this stage would be to shoot ourselves squarely in the foot. I can say this,…..that at the end of every hard working session, the guitar comes out and we end the day with good food and Russia ballads that everyone but me knows every word. Invariably at least half the people in a room will play the guitar and it is passed around. Both Igor and Nikolai are very good players and singers. Everyone sings these songs like all their hearts were about to burst. Despite the reputation of Russians, there is not a drop of alcohol consumed by this group at these otherwise wonderful get-togethers.

Another thing that Nikolai and Tatiana, who both speak and understand English very well did, was to translate the documentary The Edge of Eden. There have been a couple of practice showings at UNDP meetings where Nikolai personally translates the narration into Russian as the film is being shown. These have been done as preparation towards putting on a big show on April 25th for the public at a meeting room at the library that holds 400 people. Nikolai and I are sure that the public are only resigned to what is happening to their salmon and bears because they feel helpless at stopping it.... that if they begin to become aware that there might be another way, they will get behind a protection plan and begin to make it more difficult for the poachers to live so care-free as they have been doing.

All this is a long way from any real, meaningful success, but it is more, by far, than I expected that could be achieved on this trip and there are a few more things that look very hopeful.

I came here so that I could leave Russia knowing that I had done as much as I could reasonably do as a individual foreigner struggling with a complicated issue in a complicated country.  I needed a way to be done with Kamchatka, once and for all, so that I can get on with trying to change the way bears and other wildlife are managed.... as  commodities.....and also change the idea that bears in protected areas are animals that absolutely need to be feared. As you might remember, I have been worried that the treatment they get in our so called protected areas in various forms of aversive conditioning could be responsible for creating the occasional dangerous bear, which is of course counter productive. There is a lot to do in the world, bear wise, especially if this team here comes up with a way to do something meaningful towards the protection for South Kamchatka.

So that is a bit of my story since I last wrote. I could go on and on…. for instance about what seems to be happening in Canada and elsewhere with regard to the documentary. The Edge of Eden, which was chosen by the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, the most important documentary film festival in Canada, to be the headline feature film of the Festival.   600 documentaries were reviewed, 40 chosen for the festival, and of these, The Edge of Eden (90 minute version of BBC’s Bear Man of Kamchatka) was chosen for the honor of being the headline feature! This event is on May 22 somewhere in Vancouver and Jeff and Sue Turner and I plan to be there.

Don’t hold your breath expecting to see this documentary on TV in the near future. BBC Worldwide is holding it out of that market for now. Instead, they are making plans for the 90 minute version to be released in movie theatres around the world, hopefully as successfully as March Of The Penguins was in 2005. There are some careful considerations to be sure it will work for them before they commit to spending millions of pounds for advertising and distribution into a very tough market. If and when it happens you will have to look for it with a different title. The Edge of Eden is a working title.

I am leaving Russia on April 20th to do a presentation in at Bearfest in North Vancouver on April 26th


and there are more. I will be busy this spring.
Thanks for your patients with me for posting so few entries.

© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2007