Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Photographs show wild bears posing with humans on the grounds around an Alaska cottage.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, June, 2007]
Origins: The bespectacled, bearded fellow shown in the second row of photographs above is "bear man" Charlie Vandergaw, a 68-year-old former science teacher who resides on a homestead in the Yentna River Valley, fifty miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska.
As the Anchorage Daily News reported of him:
What goes on each summer at Vandergaw's remote homestead is so far from the ordinary as to be almost unbelievable. Visitors tell of him petting black and brown bears, playing with grizzly cubs while sows stand by, sitting on bears and teaching them tricks. His own photographs show even more. They capture him easing to within feet of breeding grizzlies and nursing an injured brown bear.Vandergaw says his relationship with bears dates to his retirement from teaching in 1985. Over the years he has fed bears, befriended bears, nursed injured bears back to
A visiting photographer is amazed to see head-and-shoulder shots of breeding grizzlies taken with a wide-angle lens
There are photos of Vandergaw playing with grizzly cubs while their mother lounges nearby. There are pictures of gangs of bears around his cabin, of individual bears in his cabin, and even close-ups of a grizzly's injured mouth.
It might all seem unbelievable if not for the fact that his photos are confirmed, in effect, by those taken by other photographers and by the black bear wandering around the yard.
In April 2010, Vandergaw was fined $20,000 for violating Alaska state law by feeding wild bears. In addition to the hefty fine, his sentence included three years probation, but no jail time.
Last updated: 13 April 2010
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