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COCO AND CORKY
THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT ME, BUT BRUTUS IS an exceptional grizzly bear, who just happens to have me for a pet.
Brutus came into the world as any grizzly cub would, but it was clear from day one that this bear was special. I was twenty-six years old, and I had been working with animals professionally in some respect for about eight years and was now a curator at a drive-through wildlife park in Idaho. Brutus was born in a small man-made cave we had constructed of concrete and steel to give the cubs the feel of being born into a real "cave." Our replication wasn't perfect, but it sheltered the tiny newborns from the brutal eastern Idaho winter weather. Brutus clung close to his mother for warmth and nourishment, and acknowledged the clues of the mysterious world that awaited him. Along with the howls of the January winds, he could also hear the rumble of a Chevy engine, and the muffled voices of his future—humans. Most grizzly bear cubs would learn to fear these sounds, but Brutus was developing what would become a curious love affair and affinity with them, since his mother, who had been in captivity her entire life, perked up to our presence and did not react in fear.
One cold, clear February day, Brutus's life changed in an instant. If cubs are not removed at a very young age, they cannot be handled, and come early spring, male bears will kill them in order to mate with the female. Female bears defend their cubs fiercely, even if they are used to humans, so to prevent our being mauled by a defensive mother, we would immobilize her to remove the cubs. He was pinned beneath the weight of his tranquilized 400-pound mother. As he squirmed, he was suddenly freed as I rolled his mom to the side with a labored heave, and I scooped up what was going to become my son into my arms and sheltered him from the crisp winter air. He let out a little cry, and like a new father I held him closer and looked into his little brown eyes with paternal pride but also with the newfound fear that all new parents have of the unknown days that are to come.
His first moments of the new world were bittersweet. I tried to imagine the overwhelming rush that must have flooded his senses. He seemed to be uncomfortable and scared for the first time, but then he nestled his head into mine and found a new calmness. So the bond of trust was born. He sheltered his little wet nose in the bristly hairs of my goatee. It wasn't Mom's soft, silver-tipped fur, but the coarse brown hair must have felt good. Little did he know at that point that he would be greatly responsible for turning my brown hair silver-tipped, too. My warm and loving arms would soon be etched with little bloody grizzly bear scratches and painted with mustard-colored cub diarrhea. But those battles were to come. Meanwhile, the connection that would form between two species that usually are segregated by fear would be life-changing. Brutus never had the opportunity to become prejudiced against humans, a behavior that is learned, not instinctual. In fact, in a staggering way, his heartstrings were tugged in the opposite direction.
BEFORE BRUTUS CAME ALONG, I HAD GOTTEN TO KNOW HIS parents quite well. His father was Corky and his mother was Coco. Both of them had been owned by a woman who trained bears for the television and film industry. Coco seemed much more amenable to training than Corky. In fact, rumor had it that Corky had been put to the side and ignored a bit because the other bears he lived with were used more often for movie jobs, but the result was an attention-yearning sweetheart. Corky was very charming, very peaceful, and just plain laid-back. As far as grizzly bears go, he was perfect, and didn't seem to miss the proverbial spotlight one little bit. On the other hand, Coco was spunky and full of life. Corky and Coco spent their time together in their very own enclosure at the wildlife park. Coco was the boss, even though she was only about half the size of Corky. Not that different from some human couples in that respect!
Coco and Corky's enclosure was separated by two 5-foot-tall electric fences that paralleled one another approximately 10 feet apart. Just on the other side was the enclosure where approximately thirty black bears lived. One of my favorite memories was of the mating season. Two female black bears, Rosie and Hannah, would walk to the fence's edge and flirt with Corky, admiring his big, beautiful male grizzly stature. Corky loved the attention and would hover just on the other side and show off by digging massive holes, pushing over trees, and standing on his hind legs, showing those black-bear ladies that he was much more than just your average bear. But Corky was not the only one with an interspecies admirer. A large male black bear named Leonard would also walk the fence's edge and flirt with Coco. She was not as impressed, but I did see her give some signs of interest, enough to keep Leonard around—the tease!
Though Corky was ten years old when I first met him, anytime I was near him he would engage me with full-on eye contact. I could tell that he desperately wanted to interact. From all that I'd learned up until that moment, interacting with a ten-year-old grizzly bear for the very first time would be foolish. But something was different about Corky. So despite the rules, the owner's wishes, and to the chagrin of my fellow keepers, every day after work I would sneak down alone into the grizzly enclosure and spend some time with Corky. I started off with baby steps. I would feed him by hand over the safety of the fence to build his trust. Gradually, as he became more relaxed, I would touch his face with the hand I wasn't using to feed him. He would turn to smell the new hand but would go back to the food. Then, it moved to food-free touching. This allowed him to concentrate on me and investigate me a bit more. I then moved to crossing the fence and standing next to him, again with food to build a trust. Then, when the food was removed, this was the biggest step because it was just the two of us, without barriers, standing together exploring each other. I would have to swallow my fear or apprehension so as not to introduce the element of anxiety to the newfound bond. I continued in this fashion, little by little, until one night, I got to the point I could sit in his lap. In a process like this, you learn so much about communication with a grizzly bear. Each moment has to be analyzed very carefully, and any misinterpretations would end badly. If I had walked into a situation like this with too much or too little confidence, I would have been destroyed. Finding a balance, creating respect, and crossing the lines only when invited are special skills that I feel we all have. The hard part is just digging them out from beneath all the clutter and trash of our uncharitable minds.
It didn't take long for Corky and me to develop a close bond, a bond that I had to show off. Nobody could believe it, and although they had been opposed to my starting this relationship, everybody was astonished. The relationship became so close that I could sit on Corky's lap as he nuzzled my face and I scratched his belly. There was something in his eyes and in his gentle mannerisms that invited me in. I had worked with perhaps fifty adult bears, and I'd never taken a leap of faith the way I did with Corky. It was ironic that I had picked the biggest grizzly bear I had ever worked with to be my first for such a relationship.
Coco, on the other hand, was much harder to control. I often thought that Coco was too smart for her own good. I would watch her watch Corky and me. She would pay special attention to our patterns. Something about her kept me on my toes. She would show off her tricks without being asked and engage you in a way to draw you in closer. Then, just when you let your guard down and were close enough, she would take a swipe at you. If she wasn't going to be the bear getting all the attention at the park, then she was going to make the headlines for ripping your face off.
One morning, I woke early to the ringing of my cell phone. I lived on the premises of the wildlife park in a small trailer at the time. On the phone was my boss. He said, "Casey, I just got a call from the Sheriff's Department and they said there is a grizzly bear on the highway!" That was the worst news in the world to wake up to in those days. I leapt up from my bed, threw on my clothes, and called my partner, Christine, for backup. I drove into the wildlife park, looking for a bear on all sides. I did not see anything on the highway, and the traffic wasn't reacting as if there was a grizzly on the road. As I drove near the grizzly enclosure, I'll never forget what I saw: a large pile of freshly excavated dirt and a tunnel going underneath the gate. On the other side sat Corky with a confused look. I remember thinking that of the two grizzly bears who could have escaped, I was hoping it was Corky. He would have been the easier of the two to get back into the grizzly enclosure. Coco, on the other hand, would have created a ruckus if we had to do anything with her. I looked back toward the corner of the large elk, deer, and bison enclosure, and I noticed that all of the hooved animals were paying close attention to something or someone. Just then, Christine rounded the corner in her little white jeep.
Christine had previously worked with most of the bears now in the wildlife park. She hadn't had very much experience with Coco, but it was certainly more than I had had. Coco, who had now escaped through the tunnel and was having second thoughts, sat terrified on the edge of the ungulate enclosure. Christine and I came up with a game plan. Christine was going to walk alongside Coco and lead her back to the gate with treats. It was our hope that once we got her back to the gate, in fear of her new surroundings, she would willingly return to the comforts of her own enclosure. We walked along with Coco, marshmallow by marshmallow, leading her step-by-step slowly toward her escape route.
About halfway across the 30-acre enclosure, Coco started to get nervous and began to hesitate. Some of the occupants of the enclosure, a large flock of wild turkeys, were making their way over to see their new friend. Coco did not want to be friends with the wild turkeys. In fact, she seemed to be scared of them. Coco sat down in the middle of the road that wound through the enclosure. She began sucking on Christine's finger, a sign of nervousness, but was finding some pacification in the sucking. Christine and I spoke to each other in a calm way and came up with plan B.
Christine was going to stand there allowing Coco to continue to suck on her finger while I returned to the truck and got the makings of a small electrical fence. I was going to come back and put the fence up around her to contain her and then we would go and get the bear trailer and attempt to load her into it. I went back to the truck, gathered up the items, and slowly returned to Christine. I was about 20 yards away when it happened. With lightning speed, Christine was engulfed in a barrage of brutal strikes and bites from Coco. Christine collapsed to the ground, and Coco sprinted away in full panic.
I ran to Christine and noticed that she was beginning to go into some sort of shock. I gave her a once-over and, not seeing any obvious wounds, scooped her into my arms and carried her to the truck. I remember asking her if she was okay, and by her reaction I knew she wasn't. I began to look closely at her and noticed blood soaking through her sweatshirt. I pulled back her sleeve. It was bad. Most of her arm on either side of her elbow looked like hamburger meat. I kept my cool, trying not to let her see the panic welling up inside me. I quickly drove her out of the park and rendezvoused with one of the park owners. I asked him to rush her to the emergency room while I returned to attempt to contain and extinguish the emergency situation that had been left behind.
Christine went off to the hospital and I returned to Coco. I wasn't messing around now, and three tranquilizer darts later I dragged Coco's unconscious body back into her enclosure. Corky, who was sitting there watching the whole event, gave us both curious looks as if he wondered what all the fuss was about. The park staff decided to keep Coco around. She was a spitfire, but she was the only breeding female grizzly bear they had. Grizzly bear cubs were a vital asset in order to attract visitors to the park, so despite her disposition and rap sheet, they decided to let her stay. (Her enclosure was fortified to be escape proof.)
I find it a general rule of thumb that female grizzlies tend to be a little more moody than their male counterparts. I speculate that it comes from their relentless protection of their cubs. Whether protecting them from humans, other bears, or countless other obstacles, they must always be on guard, and they almost always choose an offensive strategy if they sense danger. As I got to know Brutus over the years, I saw equal parts of his father and mother in him. Brutus will always be 100 percent a grizzly bear, and I never forget that 50 percent of that is Coco.CHAPTER 2
I WAS BORN IN MONTANA. MY DAD WAS A MOUNTAIN MAN AND my mom ran a homeless shelter. Now I give homeless grizzly bears a place to live. My mother's side of the family have been cattle ranchers in Montana for several generations, and politically conservative, while my father's family were mostly fairly liberal, so I got a healthy dose of different opinions while I was growing up. I would like to think it expanded my mind and gave me a chance to understand both sides of an issue, although as it usually is between parents and children, there were some bumps along the way.
When my father had any free time, it was spent in the mountains, and I was hot on his heels. Whether it was gathering firewood, hunting, hiking, or camping, most of my childhood was spent exploring the surrounding forests. My dad believed in wilderness and liked the land to be pure and untouched. He would complain about motorcycles and clear-cut logging, and if we encountered on public land the type of barbed wire fence used for cattle, we usually destroyed it. I was an eco-terrorist in training, and some of those ideals still run deep in my soul. Ironically, the next weekend, we could be found at my mom's family's cattle ranch fixing fences, riding around on four-wheelers to check the calves, and talking about falling cattle prices and the potential of selling agricultural land to subdivision developers.
Growing up in Montana was wonderful, but being raised in a family with a dichotomy of perception about wilderness was confusing. However, it did give me a wide perspective, and one thing both sides had in common was the love for animals. It is here, at my roots, that the obvious need to coexist with the wilderness became a seed that I have been cultivating my entire life.
I love both sides of my family, and I have watched them adjust to each other over the years. They have found some sort of harmony and respect in each other's opinions, and they have listened and adapted accordingly, and I think it is time for the rest of the world to do the same.
My mother directed a homeless shelter in Helena, Montana, for most of my childhood. The shelter took in mostly homeless men, whose background ranged from Vietnam vets to the mentally ill. My mother instilled many values in me, but the one that sticks with me in my interactions with wild animals—and people, too—is the value of never judging a book by its cover.
Many of the men my mother helped and cared for are the same people that many will take one look at and step back from. Our closed minds have made us cower from them as if they have leprosy or are going to steal something from us. My mother made friends with these people, and so did I. It didn't take me long to realize how very wrong the common perception of most transient people is. The people I met were caring, honest, and intelligent. My mother met some of her closest friends at the shelter. Those friends continue to be some of her most loyal. I learned a lot from my mother when it came to blind compassion, and sacrificing your own comfort for the comfort of others. There is no greater gift than to take your favorite shirt off your back and give it to someone who needs it more than you. This is the basis of my passion to help grizzly bears and other wild creatures. Like the homeless men and women on the streets across the country, grizzly bears are misjudged and treated poorly out of fear and ignorance. Mom taught me to learn about and understand them.
Excerpted from The Story of Brutus by Casey Anderson. Copyright © 2010 Casey Anderson. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Letter from the Editor ix
Chapter 1 Coco and Corky 1
Chapter 2 Hybrid 11
Chapter 3 The Magnet: My Animal Connection 17
Chapter 4 Desperate Cries 31
Chapter 5 The Tracker 41
Chapter 6 Lost Language 49
Chapter 7 Scars 53
Chapter 8 Fathers and Sons 61
Chapter 9 Dangerous Encounters 75
Chapter 10 Antler Ridge 93
Chapter 11 Mountain Migration 103
Chapter 12 Unbreakable Bonds 125
Chapter 13 The Golden Child 137
Chapter 14 Sheena and Christie 159
Chapter 15 Fellow Hunter-Gatherer 169
Chapter 16 Brutus the Showman 179
Chapter 17 Blood Brothers 183
Chapter 18 Bearanoia 195
Chapter 19 The Human Skunk 201
Epilogue: The Soul of a Bear 205
Posted September 8, 2010
I have read many books over the years, and this one ranks up there at the very top! The Story of Brutus is one of a kind because it involves a very passionate, dedicated, motivated, and educated individual, Casey Anderson, as he shares genuine first hand accounts of his life. With his fantastic writing style that can appeal to all age groups and individuals with many backgrounds (even if your field doesn't happen to be environmental...or working grizzly bears), his writing makes you feel as though you are experiencing his journeys as well. Casey tells about the stories of Brutus and his many bears friends, along with providing all readers with a vast amount of knowledge that can be used in educating others about grizzly bear habitat protection for the future. This book should certainly be used in classrooms across the country, as educating students about the environment and this important subject of grizzly bear habitat protection could not have been portrayed any better than what information is provided from Casey. If there were more individuals like Casey, this world would be a much better place.
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