Spirit Bear

Spirit Bear

by Charles Russell

Nature/Photography | Canadian Geographic and Key Porter Books |Hardcover/Softcover| 1994 |

Eyeing you from the dust jacket of Spirit Bear is a very relaxed, improbable looking white bear with a benign, even friendly, air. It is the embodiment of the main subject of the book.

The author begins by summarizing his own and his family’s long history and experience with black and grizzly bears. In so doing he establishes his credibility before describing his encounters with’ the Kermode bear, a rare white variant of the black bear that inhabits some of the largely undisturbed west coast islands. Russell was wise to open in this manner as the story that follows truly stretches the reader’s credulity.

After recounting how he came to be on Princess Royal Island to film the white bears with Sue and Jeff Turner, we learn how they got to know the Spirit Bear, and how they developed an extraordinary relationship with him. The Spirit Bear not only “enjoyed” human company, but he fished with people, slept beside them, and allowed the author to scratch and even tickle him between his toes! Perhaps most incredible is the incident when men and bear play tug-of-war, with the bear attempting to initiate a wrestling match without harming his human friends.

After these amazing adventures, the last chapter is somewhat disappointing. We read about how the author and the Turners, after several months’ absence from Princess Royal Island during the winter, returned and spent their last summer finishing their film. However, only one brief paragraph is devoted to their meeting with the Spirit Bear and the renewal of their extraordinary friendship.

Despite this disappointment, the book is well worth the price. Although not always technically perfect, the amazing photographs are generally very good and document some of the incredible events described in the narrative. The text not only provides fascinating insights into bear behaviour, but give? plenty of reasons to change preconceived notions about bear aggression. Underlying the story is a message about the importance of keeping an open mind when dealing with animals. But don’t expect the next bear you meet to treat you as a long lost friend.


Naturalist, writer and photographer Charlie Russell has life-long experience working with grizzly bears.

© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bears Co-Existence Study of Charlie Russell, 2007