Casey Anderson is a Montana-born naturalist and bear expert, who has spent the past 7 years raising a bear named Brutus from birth. Brutus was born in an overpopulated wildlife park and was subject to euthanasia when Casey rescued him. Casey built a sanctuary to house Brutus in Bozeman, Montana, that has since taken in 5 more bears from harmful captivity situations. The sanctuary, called Montana Grizzly Encounter, is used by Casey to promote bear conservation and public education. He seeks to instill bear appreciation among visitors as well as teach them about bear safety.
Casey believes that public involvement is a necessary part of bear conservation. Bears are now found in only 2% of their former territory in the continental U.S. and are threatened by climate change, which has killed off 50% of one of their main food sources, white bark pine. Casey says:
More and more each year, the island that this population lives on shrinks. Along with this shrinking habitat, global warming is eliminating some of the grizzly bears’ important food sources at a drastic rate. White bark pine, cut worm moths, and other populations that grizzly bears depend on are greatly affected. Without a stop to these events, it could lead to extinction; but most certainly to hardship, that in time will only lead to more bear/human conflict. I feel that education and awareness toward these issues is a major front on combating these issues. Most people don’t even realize it is happening, so we need to spread the word, develop an understanding, and ultimately generate a passion to do something to help the grizzly bear.
Misconceptions about bears and improper approach is another threat that Casey is combating:
There are a few bad bears like there are bad humans, but 99 percent of these animals have no interest in harming humans. Over 85 percent of attacks are when a mother feels threatened and is trying to protect her cubs. They are not much different than us…In its flight or flight response at close proximity, it often chooses fight. But the intention is not to kill and eat, but to beat up and try to make the threat go away…These conflicts can be avoided; the bear does not want to not have these interactions as much as the people don’t. Proper etiquette and behavior in grizzly country can lead to a very enjoyable experience for both species.
One of Casey’s suggestions is the use of bear pepper spray, which is designed to confuse the bear and inflict temporary pain so it will change course. Casey believes that if everyone hiking in bear areas carried such spray and used it on sight of a bear, it would condition bears to avoid humans, especially as female bears passed on such knowledge to their cubs. After all, he says, “firearms don’t work… A dead bear can not pass on this learned behavior”.
Casey feels that it is very important for people to understand the value of protecting bears:
Grizzly bears are very similar to humans. They posses a great amount of emotion and thought…They are each as individual as people in their personalities. This combination of intelligence, emotion, power, and speed is simply awe inspiring.
Twice Casey has seen Brutus cry tears of appreciation and he gives Brutus credit for saving his life: “He gave me purpose, and the inspiration to try and make a difference in the world. He has always been the symbol of what we are fighting for.” Casey decries the United States’ general treatment of wildlife and the environment, which has an overall focus on possession and a lack of respect for animal species:
The United States has always stood for democracy and fairness across the world. Our country has helped millions across the planet liberate themselves and live a life of freedom. Yet, we will not do that very thing for the All-American animals that we share this wonderful place with. We as humans have the ability to adapt and change better than any other species on earth. We can coexist with the wildlife we love…
We have forced most animals in the world to adapt to their threshold. Now it is our turn to do our part. Through simple thought and innovation, education and application, we can save the lives of bears and humans alike. If we want to share this earth with the wild things we love, we must change. It is time to coexist, and hold up our side of that bargain.
Photo: one of the sanctuary’s bears, courtesy of Montana Grizzly Encounter