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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 44 - Dr. Gay Bradshaw

Gary Macfarlane

Dr. Gay Bradshaw is a psychologist, ecologist and pioneer researcher on animal trauma whose latest book Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell is about our mutual friend and “bear whisperer” who challenged our way of thinking about and relating to wild animals, especially grizzly bears. Charlie articulated a vision he called “fitting in,” that meant deep listening, becoming part of where you are rather than standing out and dominating other beings, that has led to so much destruction of the planet. Gay concludes that we must “recede, refrain and restrain,” and that we have a perfect opportunity to make a radical change in our culture and devote ourselves to nature's wellness by putting ourselves second to nature.


I named this field called trans-species psychology, not to start a new field… but to name what the corpus of science really said, that elephant brains, bear brains, human brains, cat brains, and even octopus -- all animals have the same neural substrates. In other words, they've got the same brains and processes that we do, which gives us the capacity for thinking, feeling and consciousness.

“Fitting in” was a term that Charlie used, and it was really a principle of his philosophy and his ethos… In a sense, it's antithetical to the attitude and the philosophy of modern humanity. It's not standing out. It's becoming part of where you are.

In order for the cubs [the orphans that Charlie raised] to really make it as wild bears and to be accepted into while bear society, they had to learn how to think and feel and all the nuances of wild bear culture in that specific place, which was Kambalnoye basin. So Charlie had to do an internal stripping of any ideas, or any kind of what I call “shards” of human projections or ideas, to be open to hearing and listening and seeing and understanding the world from a bear's point of view.

And [the grizzly Charlie called] Brandy, she saw something in Charlie and really respected and cared and loved him for that. She kind of took him under his wing. He said he was press-ganged one day -- she just left her cubs with him. The cubs were crying… and Charlie intuitively fell on his back and played around just like a mother bear would. This mother bear who's supposed to be the most dangerous creature on the planet -- a mother bear with cubs -- just left her cubs with Charlie.

We have to learn to go quietly, and we have to learn to recede. Give back nature -- we're not managing it, we need to manage ourselves and we need to refrain and restrain. We have a perfect opportunity right now to make a radical change in our culture, and that radical change is to devote ourselves to nature's wellness and putting ourselves second to nature.


Interviews with Gay Bradshaw


Towe, Beth. 2018. Bert Riggall’s Greater Waterton: A Conservation Legacy. Fifth House.

Bradshaw, G.A. 2009 Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity (Yale University Press)

Bradshaw, G.A. 2017 Carnivore Minds: Who These Fearsome Beings Really Are (Yale University Press)

Russell, Charlie. 2017. Spirit Bear: Encounters with the White Bear of the Western Rainforest. House of Anansi Press.

Russell, Charlie, and Maureen Enns. 2002. Grizzly Heart: Living without Fear Among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka. Random House.


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