Laurie Hood's Difference Makers

Wolf and Bear Whisperers Buck Wilde and Esther Gossweiler

May 02, 2021 Alaqua Animal Refuge Season 1 Episode 1
Laurie Hood's Difference Makers
Wolf and Bear Whisperers Buck Wilde and Esther Gossweiler
Show Notes Transcript

 Wildlife expert, filmmaker, and photographer Buck Wilde partners with Esther Gossweiler, wildlife photographer, to chat with Alaqua Animal Refuge Founder and "Difference Makers" Host Laurie Hood about their joint venture filming "Dark Wild Howling," a documentary highlighting rare Alaskan Sea Wolves in the remote vast Alaska wilderness while going nose-to-nose with Black Bears.

Buck Wilde, known as "The Bear Whisperer" has made over 20 documentaries about bears and his dramatic bear-fight footage is featured in National Geographic’s "Grizzly Empire." Esther had never seen a wolf in the wild before becoming the protagonist for Dark Wind Howling. Since, she has experienced over 100 close wolf encounters and could be considered an expert. From kneeling and prone positions, she is able to capture breathtaking closeups, while keeping the wolves engaged and building trust which has led to compelling subplots.

This interview shows incredible footage of Buck and Esther's documentary and  the three individuals also trade tales about staying safe while surrounded by dangerous animals and rescuing abused and neglected domestic animals. While their tasks in filming and rescue are different, their mental approach and body language awareness techniques are surprisingly similar.

The episode is filled with great advice and good stories, beginning with a recording of Buck and his camera crew being charged by a 900-pound bear while working with David Attenborough. Buck joined the Podcast from State College, Pennsylvania and Esther joined from Zurich, Switzerland. Laurie was at her new state-of-the art refuge and sanctuary in Freeport, Florida.

Be on the lookout for a new episode featuring Buck and Esther in Season 2, premiering Fall 2022.

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ABOUT LAURIE HOOD'S DIFFERENCE MAKERS

Our podcast series celebrates the work of animal advocates from around the globe who have dedicated their lives to animal protection and safety. These "difference makers" are doing extraordinary things to help all types of animals protect their overall welfare. In each episode, Laurie and her guests exchange larger-than-life tales of triumphs and setbacks and discuss how they got started advocating for animals, all the while inspiring others to join their movement.

It is a must-watch for all animal lovers and a rallying cry to help create much-needed and lasting change in our society. Whether you watch or listen to the podcasts, our hope is that you will be entertained, informed, inspired, and encouraged to get involved—in your own community or across the globe.


Speaker 1:

When he's challenging, which he is right now, backing up is not the best move he's coming here. Now, fan we're not challenging, you know , challenge event . Okay. You and I are down on her knees .

Speaker 2:

It takes animal passion and a whole lot more to spend every summer living in the midst of wild Brown bears and Alaskan sea wolves. Welcome to the animal passion podcast, a program about people who by choice or by chance have committed their lives to protecting animals. I'm Lori Hood , president and founder of aliquot animal refuge. Today, I'm talking to Wolf and bear whispers, Buckwild and Esther Gosse Weiler . That was Buck's voice. You heard in the opening clip. Addressing van van is an approaching 900 pound dominant male, Alaskan Brown bear, who isn't happy. He thinks buck and his camera crew have stolen his dinner in this remarkable video excerpt, but does the opposite of what most of us have been told to do with bearing counters . He and the crew speak calmly to van. And when van keeps charging, they get down on their knees. I'll let buck and Esther explain what happens and what they've learned from thousands of interactions with wild bears and wolves. After I introduced them before becoming an Alaskan wildlife expert buck , CIA counter-espionage work focused on the expression of emotions and humans and animals. Esther contacted buck to help realize her dream of working with bears and wolves together. They're making a documentary film to raise awareness and advocate for Alaskan sea wolves. Hi guys. Welcome to the show.

Speaker 3:

Thank you for being with me. So happy to meet you. I've read about you and the allow for animal refute . I'm impressed and it's nice to talk to you really. I'm very excited, very excited to talk to you as well. And I actually wanted to start with you asked her because I read a story and I want to know if it's true for what I understand. You met buck in a bar, accepted his offer to travel to remote Alaska, and you soon found yourself crawling around with the cold bars with 20 pounds of camera gear and surrounded by a pack of wolves. That really what happened. In fact, we met in the wild. We met in the wild and we decided to document the Wolf's life, which we heard howling around our camp at night was buck working with bears and you were there on another mission. I was seeing great best state count on TV. I was always determined to come to Alaska and photograph the wild animals. And there was buck wild. And I thought this guy, I would dare to go out there. I spent a week with bucking the wild and with the pears . Finally, we ended up at the bar with this arrangement of doing a documentary about the Wolf's other buck. You had this amazing job and facial recognitions and working for clients like the CIA. How does that work? When you one day walk into your office and tell your boss that you're leaving and you're going to wild Alaska.

Speaker 1:

They literally told me to my face that I was crazy for leaving such a great job. I gave it all up to go live with Brown bears. I don't take supervision well, and I really don't like cubicles there's no, and I needed some fresh air at that point. My life was something I had always wanted to do. I'd seen bears on a few vacations to glacier national park in Montana, and they sort of captured my imagination.

Speaker 3:

And the experience you got from learning to read people's body language, how is it different reading, a bear than it is reading a human

Speaker 1:

Almost completely different and an outward observational level bears don't have very much in terms of facial expression. And so much of human emotions are conveyed through facial expression. And that was really the focus that we had at the CIA was to interrogate Soviet spies or Chinese spies or whatever. Using facial recognition technology that I was working on with the bears. It really comes down to body language. You have to tune into the body language of the species that you're working with, as you would recognize, of course, working with a horse is different than working with a primate, et cetera.

Speaker 3:

And in my line of work, whether they're prey or predator makes such a huge difference in the way that we interact with them,

Speaker 1:

Yes , it brings another layer of consideration safety into the work and the endeavors and the same applies. In my opinion, to a lesser degree to the wolves ,

Speaker 3:

We sort of had to schedule to get up, but maybe five 30, six ish, we saw this Wolf , we just stay there and filmed and photograph this wall . And finally, we sort of went back through the camp and we saw a bear with two cops coming along and despair . Two cops went to the beach and we set up our cameras and filmed these spare model . Then from the beach, he came back to the Tundra, laid herself down and nursed her little cups, maybe a chest there. And you were just filming and photographing. And this mother bears , she didn't care at all about us. She was so much at ease and she was right in front of us. And by the time the bear trolled off and the little ones went off to play around, we had to glance at the watch and it was 1230. And buck was still in his pajamas. I love that was fantastic. We forgot everything breakfast for soaking in the camp. Coffee got cold . We just got up and did our work. It sounds like a perfect start of a morning.

Speaker 1:

I'm tempted to tell the story of the first round bear that really gave me a scary encounter. I was by myself on Kodiak Island to photograph Brown bears. And this was about 30 years ago. So I, as they say, I was as green as grass, I was photographing this mother and a small stream catching salmon, very Handly and eating them. And she would eat the best part, crack the skull and eat the brains. And she would throw the rest of the salmon up onto the bank behind her, or there were two cute little Cubs and they would fight over the salmon and I would photographing all this action. And all of a sudden the body language of this mother bear changed. Her focus switched from salmon and she had been ignoring me to me. And she stood up in that water and ran at me at a full charge. She probably covered 50 yards in two or three heartbeats. She was standing over me, eight feet tall, looking down at me. I could reach out and touched her if I wanted to. And she was roaring so loud that it shook my cavity of my body. And I was just scared to death. Then the mother bear dropped down onto all fours right in front of me. And when that happened, her nose almost hit my belly. And I thought, for sure, this bear is going to eat me. And she takes one step back so that she could give a hand signal like this. And unbeknownst to me, she had a third Cub that was behind me. And that's what her reaction was all about. I was not aware that I had been between a mother and a loss Cub that she had been separated from. She reprimanded that bear by swatting it around and literally hit it and knocked it into the water. And it went swimming across the stream, back to the other Cubs. And that mother bear turned its back to me, walk back into the stream and went about fishing . Like nothing had ever happened. And we went , ate a lot of things about, you know, what makes them mother bear tech firm ,

Speaker 4:

You just adamantly say, and to never run when you encounter a bear like that or you haven't experienced like that to never run. Was that going through your mind the whole time you were standing there?

Speaker 1:

It's a great question. And it certainly is an Axiom that I live by. I make that point very strongly. When I talk to audiences, there are runners and there are what I would call feeders . You know what feening is? Feeney is something that an animal does when they're afraid. They freeze. And I tend to do that rather than run ideas , tend to freeze up and then hopefully my wits come back to me quickly enough that I can navigate my way through the encounter. I have never been tempted to run and it has worked for me. You would not believe Lori on a typical summer from may to October in this wilderness area, it is easy for me as a bear guide and photographer to have a thousand close encounters a year.

Speaker 4:

Would you bring people with you and it's their first time to encounter this? Do you ever worry that they're going to not listen to you and run and cause a dangerous situation?

Speaker 1:

Give us safety lecture, especially the first time. And I reinforced the two points that are very easy to remember. Don't approach a wild animal because that can evoke a defensive attack and don't run or scream or panic and lose your mind for any reason, no matter what happens, because that will evoke a predatory attack.

Speaker 4:

And you gently talk to it. You almost talk to it in a baby voice, very calm and that's exactly what I do, but you're doing it with a very large fare that's walking towards you. I found that very fascinating.

Speaker 1:

The soothing talking, not only in my mind calms the animal, but it keeps me calm too. And in those kinds of encounter, situations is very important. Some of this stuff is somewhat counterintuitive to a lot of people. I was very impressed when I met Esther several years ago, her ability to handle herself and quite frankly, to trust me and the guidance that I was giving she learned. And , and she had a good amount of respect and a little bit of fear from the animals, which is important. She was a perfect choice to work with me on his full project because I did not want to be put on camera with these rules as an expert, who's been doing this for 30 years. I wanted to put Esther a relative newbie, actually an absolute newbie on camera because I wanted to make the point to viewers that you can learn this too. It's not rocket science, but you have to abide by certain basic principles . And if you do, anyone can learn to navigate their way through a wildlife encounter. You're doing a very fine dance that could get dangerous. And your job really is to gain the trust that animal and part of that is not losing your cool or panicking. And as you can see in some of the footage that we've got of Esther close to these wolves, they jump around her and do lunges and dances and it would be easy to lose

Speaker 4:

Esther . So is that what you do for me? It's all about the energy. If you approach an animal and you're all keyed up and your energies there, if they mirror that, I always try to get very calm before I go into those situations. Is that what you do?

Speaker 3:

I think because I'm keeping my head on taking pictures, I'm completely focused on another thing. I'm calm. It's absolutely true. I talk to the animals. I talk about boxes. It's true because it keeps me calm too. And because I'm focused on my word , it's also, the energy is led in another direction, but always keep the head in the game. And that's what it is because concentrate on what your goal is, what you want to achieve. Just try to be settled. You have to understand the animal. You have to know how we communicate, but we never approach in any manner . We let the animals come to us. We also move very openly in the area. We want them to know that we are there. We don't follow animals if they want to come fine. Great, fantastic. If they don't, we are a bit sad, but we don't follow because it's , it's their will

Speaker 4:

Common misconception is that you're supposed to be big. You're supposed to be loud. You're supposed to show them that you're bigger than they are. Why is that not true?

Speaker 1:

It depends on what the situation is. You as the person mean to have your head in the game on enough to interpret what the motive of that animal's approach is to you. If that animal's approach to you is seemingly predatory, which you know, our world of bears and wolves is extremely rare and all the thousands and thousands of bear and Wolf encounters I've had, maybe I've had two or three predatory approaches. And in those rare situations, then want to do what you're told to do by some of the lay information out there, stand up scream, put your hands up, two things wrong with that message. If the animal is just curious, hopefully, and in most cases you'll just scare it away. It could instigate an attack. And that's why in certain situations I don't advocate screaming and yelling at wild animals. They can get freaked. If they think it's their best option to attack you, then they will. You might be in a situation where the animal did not have in its mind to be predatory, but you intimidate it egg on a fight. So to speak, just like with a person you asked for the fight and you're liable to get one, I always leave and taking the easy way out and trying to talk the animal down rather than trying to bully it around

Speaker 2:

A quick pause here to let you know that Alec Y's a nonprofit no-kill animal refuge in the Florida panhandle grants, donations, dedicated volunteers, and a small terrific staff have helped us save over 25,000 animals. Each year we placed 1200 rescues and safe. Second chance homes. We work with everything from imuz to exotic birds. We have the largest active volunteer network in the Southeast. We have a new state of the art, 100 acre facility and a 700 acre native species preserve Eloqua advocates for animals on the local state and national level to find out how to donate and get involved. Visit eloqua.org, to see buck and nester in their amazing footage. Check out the video version on YouTube animal passion podcast channel hit the like button, click subscribe and leave comments. All three of those simple things will help us keep doing the work we do. Now back to the interview

Speaker 4:

In our line of work, we're rescued, we worked with the local Sheriff's department. We go in cruelty cases. We go in hoarding cases. We go in situations where we know absolutely nothing about these potentially very dangerous dogs, but we have to approach them because we have to get them out of the situation with your experience on body language of humans and animals. Putting that into my line of work. Is there anything you can recommend that could Pelton what we do in our rescue attempts?

Speaker 1:

Now your job as a rescuer is you have to approach. And so your skills as a, an animal rescuer have to be finely tuned. You have to take it seriously for the sake of your own safety. You should carry some kind of a deterrent case. Things go really bad. You have to play all of your cards as an expert in body language to mitigate that animal. And just like Esther and I, with our Wolf pack, you have to win that's trust. You have to gain the confidence of that animal, or it's going to fight my least favorite story to tell Lauren , my very least favorite story. A man got killed by a bear, a mother and two Cubs came into my camp. One morning. I heard a bear out of my sight. I only saw the Cubs give a vocal command, off like that, that bears do. And the Cubs just disappeared. So I put my breakfast up in a tree and a food cache was a back country, wilderness campsite, grab my camera gear and headed in the direction that the bear was going at very quickly. I've discovered a pool of blood in the trail and a pack. And then other signs that there have been a very violent attack just right in front of me, but out of my sight, you know, I ended up finding the body and eventually by the end of the day, the park service gets there . Let's scariest part, I guess for me was the two Rangers and I, as we were coming off of the unfortunate victims body and thinking about where we were going to spend the night, knowing that we were not going to be able to get out of there. We had a full uncharged by that mother. And two Cubs came at us full steam ranger on my left and right shoulders each with guns. And I remember the lead ranger, Charlie Logan said, beat up safety off yell, stop, bear , stop there . So this was a situation to tell the bears to stop. And the bears are coming like freight train . They're just coming straight at us. And we're just screaming our heads off. And to Charlie Logan's credit, they had re-insurance . He never gave the order to fire and the bears true to bear nature and a charge like that did stop right in front of us and skirt it into the trees around it. So I guess the point is, is that those who say that animals are dangerous, have a valid point. Animals are capable of killing a person and you do need to live by these very simple rules. When you're dealing with wildlife, don't approach an animal, especially when it's on food. That's what the Rangers and I were doing when we went in to recover that body and don't run. That's what we didn't do as those bears were charging us, either one of those things could have gotten us killed.

Speaker 4:

It's a super sad story. And it just reinvigorates that you just have to respect these animals and respect where they're coming from. I'm so glad that that didn't deter you from your work that you continued on and still advocate for these incredible animals. So thank you for that.

Speaker 1:

You can ask Esther , I reinforce how serious it is every day when we're in the field.

Speaker 4:

Yeah , that being said with your current Alaskan seawall projects . One of the stories that really fascinated me was a pack of wolves, came in with their Cubs and lay down with you in the camp. That's pretty fascinating to me because we have a program in prison where we take dogs and we have prisoners work with them and they ended up becoming service dogs or better adopted or whatnot. But we take all the dogs before they go into the prison and we form a pack before they go in. And the key thing we look for, and sometimes it takes hours is for everybody to lay down. So is that how you felt when the wolves came in, did you feel like you were part of their pack?

Speaker 1:

And I had spent a lot of time, weeks and weeks and weeks crude , much building individual relationships with members of the pack . And it's not like we sought them out one at a time. They come over. I really think when those wolves brought those pups at us as a pack for the first, it was a definite communication us that we had won their trust and they were just totally at ease. Eventually two of the puffs did come over very close to the point where they could touch us. And the alpha male and female were maybe 10 or 15 yards back. Uh , we were photographing the alpha male did get upset, but what he did because the pups had left the pack and come to us, he gave a yell and picked up a stick and cats back to the forest where the den site is. And the four pups, very obediently followed him in single file and the rest of the pack, including the alpha female laid there and slept as a matter of fact, that about that point, she rolled over onto her back and laid, you know, like dogs do with all of her four paws up in air. So if that's not winning trust, I don't, I don't know how to interpret that body language any other way.

Speaker 3:

I can't even imagine a greater honor what an experience, tell our audience how they are different from other wolves . They are just fantastic hunters in, in CNTF fantastic swimmers. They swim for miles to offshore Island and , and get their prey, their sea lines, or see authors or whatever. But can I be you collect samples of scalp and hair and things and send them to be analyzed, to find out how are they related to other audibles on the other side of the Alaskan range, are they endangered? And do people have

Speaker 1:

To answer your question? There are only small portions of the seawalls range on the East coast of the peninsula facing the Gulf of Alaska. That's really the only place the Alaska sea wolves lives that are protected, but like everywhere else in Alaska, outside of national park , these wolves are ruthlessly haunted by trophy hunting and game management practices , uh , that are authorized by the state of Alaska. Some of the wolves have a tough life , uh, because they're, they're hunting from the air from machine guns and airplanes and poisoning. They're being really assaulted quite aggressively. Uh, not everyone sees a Wolf the way Esther and I do put it simply, you know, and what we hope to do with wild to see them with our film. And especially with Esther on our hands and knees, taking those beautiful photographs, people get to see, well, if this woman can do it, maybe all the wolves out there aren't out to get us , uh , it's a small contribution, but it's a contribution that no one else is making. And that's why we're .

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think we really hope that can evoke sympathy for this animal and also an understanding for the nature. And maybe people sort of come even to love this elegant creatures. We show on pictures and on the film because we really believe that they need advocates. Let's move on to a lightning round and I'll pass it heroes minus buck wild .

Speaker 1:

Oh wow. I would have to say David Attenborough. I've had the pleasure of working with David on two BBC projects. Of course, he's a real gentleman and has made great contributions to natural education around the world.

Speaker 4:

Favorite wild animal, wild animal wolfs . Yeah, of course.

Speaker 1:

Uh, because they are so challenging

Speaker 4:

The most memorable animal moment you've ever experienced a Wolf encounter where it could've gone wrong there, but didn't but it would be. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

And another bear encounter that I had a mother bear had, her Cubs were charged by a big male bear right in front of me that I had the cameras on and the Cubs ran to my left off my left shoulder. The mother came over and literally put her head under my tripod and between my legs and then in my face, just frothing or hot breath. And I thought I was going to die.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Sorry . I don't know if you had a high school yearbook. What was the inscription? If you had one, I had the yearbook and one teacher wrote in it. There is always something to wonder about. What about you, but I'm sold . I don't have a clue. I last question, have you ever felt, Oh, my animal passion has gone too far, yet .

Speaker 1:

Well, it's project. We are committing our lives and our life savings to this thing.

Speaker 4:

You know, it's funny this an issue of how do you find funding for something like this? And is there anybody you want to say, thank you too , for helping you on this journey,

Speaker 1:

Laurie , I'd like to thank cool clothes for outfitting. My Alaska projects. It's been about 10 years now. They make great .

Speaker 4:

I'm smiling because I have my cool pants on right now. They're my favorite line of clothing. Thank you for being with me and thank you for the incredible work you do. Thank you very much

Speaker 1:

Like with your animal rehab work on there . Laurie .

Speaker 2:

Well , passion podcast is produced by hit fire media in association with Eloqua and funded by grants and donations to donate and join our support team. Visit quad.org , a L a Q U a.org. For more information about buck and Esther's Alaskan Seawolf documentary, go to wild two c.com . That's w I L D the number two , the letter c.com. I'm Lori Hood . Thanks for listening.