Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Buck Wilde to Present a Look into the Psyche of Grizzlies and Wolves
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Sunday, April 7, 2019
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS BY BUCK WILDE

Buck Wilde was shooting grizzly bears for National Geographic’s “Grizzly Empire” when a mother bear rose up to defend her cub from a huge male bear in front of him.

As Wilde filmed the male’s attempt to kill the cubs, the cubs took off toward him, just missing his left shoulder as they high-tailed it to a safe location.

“The mother bear came to me, stuck her head into my legs, her face in my tripod. I was having an out-of-body experience—the most frightening thing ever. And then it was over,” Wilde recounted.

Close encounters of the wild kind are not uncommon for Wilde, a former Hailey resident who now lives in State College, Pa., when not on location.

He’s had thousands of close encounters with grizzlies and wolves over 30 years of making photographs and films in the Alaskan wilderness. But he’s never been mauled and he obviously has never been killed.

Wilde says there are reasons he’s lived to tell about his encounters when others haven’t. And he will share them during an insightful multimedia presentation at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum.

Tickets for “Breath of the Bear, Eye of the Wolf,” championed by Zenergy Health Club and Spa, are $15 available at Eventbrite with the money benefitting the Idaho Conservation League.

The idea is to raise wildlife awareness and offer people insights that could help them survive in the backcountry.

“This will be a great educational opportunity for animal lovers and enthusiasts of any type to learn about the behaviors of two legendary apex predators,” said Ari Drougas of Zenergy.

Wilde was CIA technical counter-intelligence researcher developing systems to automatically read and interpret body language when he decided to parlay the skills he used in reading human behavior into observing and filming wildlife.

He’s currently working on a film about wolf encounters titled "Dark Wind Howling." He will premiere footage during his presentation on Thursday, along with encounters from "Great Bear Stakeout" (BBC, Discovery) and "Grizzly Empire" (National Geographic).

Wilde’s first encounter with a bear came 28 years ago when he walked into the middle of 50 Kodiak brown bears and began photographing a sow with her two cubs. Suddenly, the mother charged him, covering the 150 feet between herself and him in two seconds.

“So fast I couldn’t even take a breath,” Wilde recounted. “She was roaring over me with her hot breath resonating on my torso. I had my first out-of-body experience right then.”

What Wilde didn’t know was that a third cub had wandered behind him. As Wilde slowly backed up, the cub skirted around him towards the mother bear. The sow slapped the cub so hard it landed in the river. Then the sow went back to looking for food as if nothing had happened.

Another breathtaking encounter came on the Great Bear Stakeout when Wilde was working with a 20-person crew in Katmai National Park. They were filming on a beach when a 1,200-pound, one-eared male stole a seal his girlfriend had just killed. He buried it in the high tide line, thinking he had secured it, but it was carried out to sea.

“I stationed my crew at that spot the next morning. When he found out his seal was gone, he thought we’d stolen his seal and charged us,” Wilde recalled.

With Wilde’s help they were able to talk it into backing off by communicating with body language cues used among bears.

Wilde’s ability to communicate with wild animals has drawn comparisons to Dr. Doolittle. David Attenborough has even called him “a bear and wolf whisperer.”

Wilde says his face-to-face negotiations are based on Charles Darwin’s “The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” as well as Dr. Paul Ekman’s 24 years of trial and error.

Wolves are notoriously wary of humans, especially when upright, so it takes time to gain their trust, he says.

And bears like to bluff charge when they feel threatened. Wilde, in fact, has been bluff charged numerous times, the bears getting right in his face. But, he says, he’s never been touched because he obeys the golden rule, which is never run.

“I’ve never been touched by a wolf, either, though they have come within inches,” he said.

“I tell people, ‘Keep your head in the game and your feet on the ground.’ The No. 1 response is to turn and run, but you can’t out run these animals. And, if you act like prey, if you show your fear, they will attack. I’ve always stood my ground. I’ve always talked to the animals.”

Risks of an encounter rise with proximity, Wilde added.

“I don’t encourage people to get close to an animal for a good photograph. The No. 1 way to minimize risk is to stay at a safe distance. I never go to wildlife. I let them come to me. And, if I feel I’m intruding, I leave.”

 

 

 

 

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