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Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me: An interview with Gordon Buchanan


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Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me, which aired in December last year on BBC 2 followed wildlife expert and presenter Gordon Buchanan on his visit to the Pazhetnov family in Bubonitsy Village of Tver Region, 450km northwest of Moscow.

The Pazhetnov family rescue and rehabilitate orphaned bear cubs from around Russia, with the goal of mimicking the bears' natural upbringing in the wild as closely as possible. 

 Grizzly Bear Cub

Image Credit: Wikipedia from the National Park Service

Gordon told me how his team began researching the rehabilitation centre in early 2018. He said “it just looked amazing” and they started filming in February of 2018. The team then made four trips to Russia, with the last one in October, for the release of the bear cubs into the wild in time for their hibernation over winter. 

Gordon says that there is an attachment to the bears that comes from a closeness not normally achieved in wildlife photography and filming. He says: “You definitely get attached to them - when filming animals in the wild there is more Of) a fascination with them, but when you’re actually providing care to a vulnerable animal you do have a bond with them.

"But there is always the desire to get them back into the wild," even though this is where they will be at risk, - "even with all the care it doesn’t mean they’ll survive”.

Gordon with Bear

Image credit: Gordon Buchanan

He noted that it was important “to have a bit of an emotional distance” between himself and the bear cubs as the aim ultimately was for them to be rehabilitated smoothly into the wild. The methods imposed in order to maintain these  distances was seen in the very first episode, when Gordon had to whisper around the bears, so that they did not become familiar with the sound of human voices.

The Orphan Bear Rescue Centre itself aims to rehabilitate these animals to survive alone in the wild: "The main characteristic of our work is that we work with animals that must learn to survive in the wild. The base condition of this skill is a sense of fear for a humans. If the animal is not afraid of people, it will not survive in the wild and is doomed to death or life imprisonment in a cage. We do not raise bears in any way – we provide them conditions close to their natural habitat, and semi-free keeping, thanks to which they form all the behaviors necessary for life in the wild: food, defensive, nesting, fear response to humans."

Gordon and I then went on to discuss his future dreams and plans. In terms of wildlife filming, he says, “One place I would love to visit is Antarctica; the only continent I haven’t been to. I would love to film everything, not just the penguins, but the leopard seals, the whales and killer whales you can find at the bottom of the earth.”

This stems from his time in the Canadian and Norwegian Arctics, which he, “fell in love with it as soon as [he] was there”. He explains how he was,“blown away by how wild it is and how specialised the animals that lived there are”. Gordon says that after 20-odd years working and filming in the Tropics, it was a great experience to film in a completely different environment. It was, “one of the only places left in the world where you can get a true sense of wilderness, with so few people there”.

Cheetah 2

Image Credit: Graham McFarlane

Discussing filming in different environments, Gordon talks about the different challenges faced when filming and working in these opposing atmospheres.

“In the Arctic, we’ve been camping in remote locations away from human inhabitation. In Russia we were isolated in a way... the accommodation was basic but really nice and cosy and when the bears were in the winter time inside, we weren’t having to spend a huge amount of time outside”.

Gordon says the tropics are harder to get comfortable in, because “there are more things that can bite and scratch you, or trip up on”, not just the high temperatures.

I was interested to find out where Gordon’s interest for wildlife stemmed from. He says his upbringing on the west coast of Scotland meant that he had an active lifestyle, and that he has “always loved the outdoors”.

This love “continued to grow over my career and I have become even more passionate and fascinated by the natural world".

Gordon and Gorilla

Image credit: Gordon Buchanan

After watching Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me, as a viewer I felt myself becoming attached to the bear cubs, as I assume many other viewers did too. Gordon says those who liked seeing the bears growing up and being rehabilitated can help by donating to the Pazhetnov family. They have recently had their funding cut and therefore rely on the generosity of animal lovers around the world and “they’re a very specialised organisation, they’re the only people in the world that are releasing or rehabilitating orphaned bears into the wild”.

The bears were released in pairs of brothers because they are territorial animals, so as to mimic the experiences they would have had in the wild. Gordon says that, “they would stay together in their pairs for this coming year and then next summer part company”. This is because they will be “bigger and their desire to be with each other ebbs”. However, if they were happy together and there was plenty of food resources, there would be a chance they could stay together. 


Image Credit: Graham McFarlane

Gordon has an upcoming project called Equator from the Air, focusing on the equatorial regions and how aerial technology is helping habitats, in the form of drones, light aircrafts all from an aerial perspective. If you enjoyed Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me, it will definitely be worth a watch - keep your eyes peeled!

You can donate to the Pazhetnov family following this link:

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