Skip to main content

Environmentalist Doug Peacock on Saving the Grizzly Bears

Peacock has devoted the last 20 years to saving the grizzly bear. Like many Veterans, he had trouble adjusting when he returned from Vietnam. He sought a life of seclusion in the mountains and it was then that he first encountered grizzly bears. Now, he performs research alone through the mountains of Wyoming and Montana studying the behavior, social hierarchy, and communication methods of grizzlies in their natural habitat. His books include "Grizzly Years," "Baja" a memoir of Edward Abbey, "Walking It Off."


Other segments from the episode on December 29, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 29, 1998: Interview with Beverly Joubert and Dereck Joubert; Interview with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall; Interview with Doug Peacock.


Date: DECEMBER 29, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122901np.217
Head: Beverly and Dereck Joubert
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

With day two of our animal week. Today we go into the wild. Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert shoot scenes most of us will never get to see first hand; like hyenas feasting on a zebra and elephants mating. In 1995, they won a Peabody Award for their National Geographic special, "Reflections on Elephants."

It followed some of the last free roaming African elephants in northern Botswana. "Reflections on Elephants" was their sixth National Geographic special. They're currently in Los Angeles working on a feature film about elephants.

The Jouberts, who are married, live in the bush most of the year tracking animals in a customized jeep. They grew up in South Africa and met in high school. I spoke with them in 1994, just before the broadcast of "Reflections on Elephants." Their film has a rare scene of an elephant dying. This was an old elephant the Jouberts had been tracking for several months. They had first seen this elephant in 1981. I asked them to describe the death.

BEVERLY JOUBERT, FILMMAKER, "REFLECTIONS ON ELEPHANTS": First of all, it was an intensely dry time, so he was desperate for water. There wasn't a lot of grazing around as well, so what they had to do -- all the bulls -- is leave the area and go and graze, and then walk at least two to three kilometers or more back to the water.

And there's very little water around, so most of the healthy bulls had really dominated the water area and he couldn't get to it. And he stood around through the heat of the day and into the nightfall waiting for hours waiting to get to water. And eventually he braved it and he went in.

And once he started to drink, one of the more dominant bulls actually jostled with him and moved him off. And he still didn't move. And, of course, he eventually got a tusk right into the side of his neck, and he dropped down and bled to death. He was just so weak that he just couldn't get up and he died there.

GROSS: Why would an elephant gore a member of its own herd?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: Well, I don't think he intentionally meant to gore him, obviously, not even knowing the weakness that that bull was in. But that is the way that they perform around water that is so little at the time. And the more dominant bull would drink first and then move off, and then the second one in charge would drink and that's the way it would go.

And if somebody steps out of line the bull -- the bull that would be drinking that is in charge will definitely just try and put that one bull back into line. And that's what happened, I think it was more an accidental death.

GROSS: How did the elephants respond when this one elephant was dying?

DERECK JOUBERT, FILMMAKER, "REFLECTIONS ON ELEPHANTS": It was stunning actually. We didn't even realize what we were going to witness, but we moved in there for about eight days and eight nights to follow the complete cycle of this death and the carcass. The other bulls spent a lot of time around that carcass.

They would go up to it and they'd smell it and they would investigate the carcass all the time. And paying particular attention to the ivory, I might add. But there were some really eerie moments where, in particular in the early afternoon -- about four in the afternoon, the bulls would all gather around this carcass and simply stand there for 15 or 20 minutes.

Not doing anything, not even smelling it. And then they'd all disperse again. So, it was a very moving and touching time, I think.

GROSS: How long did it take after the elephant died for the hyenas to come and start feeding on the corpse?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: It was actually very quick. Because they actually heard the death screams of this elephant. And they were also in the vicinity at the time, because obviously they wanted water as well. So, I would say it was almost 20 minutes, at the most, and they were there.

They didn't start feeding straightaway because the bulls wouldn't allow them to feed. First of all, all the other elephants came in and they started, first of all, trying to pick the carcass up. And some of the bulls that -- the younger bulls -- all of a sudden started doing a mock mating display on the bull that had died -- on the carcass.

And shortly after, once the bulls had left the carcass, did the hyenas come in. But then the bulls constantly would come in and chase the hyenas periodically through the night.

GROSS: How many days does it take for the elephant corpse to be consumed?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: This one was remarkably quick. It was eight days and eight nights.

GROSS: Are there any leftover parts? What happens to the ivory?

DERECK JOUBERT: Mm-hmm. Well, the bones get scattered for a start. Hyenas, you know, run off with bits and pieces of bones. And what happened in this particular case is that the ivory was pulled, on the day, by an elephant and then dropped in the mud. And then stood on by other elephants and then disappeared.

And then some months later, an elephant worked away the piece of ivory with his trunk and then extracted this whole tusk -- walked around with it. And that's a really haunting and eerie moment.

GROSS: They extracted the tusk from...

DERECK JOUBERT: ...from the mud.

GROSS: What had buried it?

DERECK JOUBERT: Yeah, where it had landed, I think, accidentally. It wasn't a conscious burying of this thing, but it landed there in the mud, and the hole dried up. But one bull eventually extracted it, and they walked around with it, displayed it, and stood on it, tried to break it.

We've seen this quite a lot. We've often seen elephants wander off with tusks and smash them against trees and break them against rocks and things like that.

GROSS: What for?

DERECK JOUBERT: Who knows? It's really a difficult thing to try and interpret without being too anthropomorphic, but so much of elephant behavior is focused around the mouth. So, when they greet they put a trunk into the other one's mouth. And that's the way the smell who the other one is, and where they've been, what feedings are out there. So, there's so much attention paid to the mouth and the tusk area. This may be an extension of that.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Dereck and Beverly Joubert. They make films about animals in the south of Africa. They have a National Geographic special, filmed in Botswana, called "Reflections on Elephants."

An earlier film that you made was about lions and hyenas. It was called "Eternal Enemies." And you filmed them at night. I wonder if you ever felt that you were in danger watching animals fight with each other and eat each other.

DERECK JOUBERT: No. Never, ever. We're very very comfortable, particularly at night, because we've just spent so much time out there with lions and hyenas and elephants at night. I think that, in particular, when animals are busy killing each other or fighting or whatever they're doing -- when they're active, they're so involved in their own lives that they totally ignore us.

And the way that we've developed our relationship with them is to be totally inobtrusive. So, we've really worked on trying to not influence this, and try to just be invisible as much as possible.

GROSS: Do you try to slowly condition the animals to your presence?

DERECK JOUBERT: Yes, we do. When we're working with elephants it's a slower approach that you have to do. Usually from slightly behind so that they don't feel threatened. And the minute you see a reaction, then you start backing off where you head the other way or maybe just freeze.

With animals at night, it's much more complex. We've worked, sometimes, with lions and hyenas for six weeks before we're able to use our filming lights on them and film effectively.

GROSS: Because they are more annoyed by the lights than by your presence?

DERECK JOUBERT: Well, lights are a new thing to them, and so what we try to do is make sure that they thought of it as just something that was there. Like another moon, possibly. And the same thing with elephants. When -- we've got some night scenes in this new film of elephants that are mainly around water holes.

And the way that we did that is we would set up lights at the water holes and just leave them there. Go away for a couple of days at a time and allow the animals to approach the lighted area and go into it and feel comfortable there.

GROSS: Has your reaction changed over the years to watching animals feeding on each other and attacking each other? Were you disturbed by it initially and then got used to it? You know, was there any kind of emotional difference to your response?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: Definitely disturbed in the beginning. I remember the first kill that I watched; it was a desperately sad one because it was so gruesome. And it was between, first of all, they're trying to bring down a baby zebra and then the lions lost it to hyenas, and this baby zebra stood up again. And it was all mauled, and then of course they had another fight and the lions took it over. And that's the way it carried on.

For at least half an hour this baby zebra hadn't been killed yet; it was still living, but very badly mauled. And that was desperately disturbing. And from then on I think all the other kills were a lot easier to watch.

There are times, though, when you -- I think the time that I really get emotionally involved is when we get to know an animal before something terrible happens to it. And that is the worst.

GROSS: But you wouldn't dream of intervening?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: No, we do have a policy that we are there to document, and if man is not interfering in anyway we're not going to interfere at all. If, for example, we came across an animal that had been badly sneered (ph) we would try to intervene. But we would never intervene in nature.

GROSS: You know, I think there's two instincts that your average person would have if they saw an animal killing another animal. One is fear, that this animal is killing the other animal; the animal is going to turn and kill you.

And the other is, you know, oh, I must stop this. You know, this is something gruesome and violent and destructive that's happening. But you're able to not act on those instincts. Maybe they're not even instincts for you anymore.

DERECK JOUBERT: No, they're not. And you have to be logical about it. First of all, this behavior has been going on for millions -- tens of millions of years. So, the one little impala that you're going to save is going to make no difference at all. And it seems futile to do that.

The other thing is, that while you're saving that one, in the darkness about a half a kilometer away, it's happening again. So, it's just so futile and it doesn't make any sense at all. The other thing, of course, is that while on the face of things it may look like you're being kind to save a young zebra from being eaten by a pride of lions, those lions have cubs somewhere that need to be fed as well.

And so the minute you start intervening, you start unraveling this whole tapestry and it all falls apart in your hands.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BEVERLY JOUBERT: Not only that, you know, we're out there without any firearms, without any protection at all. And when hyenas or lions have already decided that they are going to try and kill whatever it is, the blood is up.

For Dereck and I to jump out and to try and protect whatever it is would be futile, and we would probably get a little hurt ourselves or we could be the next prey.

GROSS: My guests are filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Beverly and Dereck Joubert, filmmakers who are documenting Africa's disappearing wildlife.

Have you ever been attacked by an animal?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: We have been attacked by an elephant cow. She was protecting her young. It was unknown to us that she or the little calf was even in the area. And she came out of the bushes charging and hit us. And she picked us up and she rocked the vehicle a lot, and while she was hitting us chips of ivory were flying into the vehicle.

We eventually managed to get her to leave us. It was at night time, and Dereck shone the light in her eyes. And she eventually left us. We were unharmed and so was she, and luckily the calf was unharmed totally as well. And the two of them went off together.

GROSS: Were you afraid?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: At the time, I know I was shaking like a leaf. And obviously the adrenaline was flowing. So, I guess I was definitely afraid. But we have been hit an elephant since then, and I think living through that experience has helped me realize that if you know your subject you definitely can get out of the situation.

GROSS: Well, how exactly did you get out of it? What -- how did you use your knowledge to protect yourself?

DERECK JOUBERT: Well, the first thing of course is we knew that a strange elephant from nowhere wouldn't like to have a strong spotlight shone in their eyes. And so, while she was busy bashing the side of the vehicle, instead of jumping forward and trying to hit her with something, which would have been a bit crazy anyway, because the biggest thing that we have is a big screwdriver.

I managed to find a spotlight and shine it directly in her eyes, and so she turned away and covered her eyes with her ears and moved away from the vehicle. And then immediately, strangely, I felt as though I didn't want to disturb her too much. So, I switched the light off and of course she turned and ran back and bashed us around a bit more. But then when the light went on the second time she moved off and I kept it on for a while.

GROSS: And did you try the same thing the second time you were attacked?

DERECK JOUBERT: No, the second time around it was during the day, and so we couldn't use that weapon of light. The second time around it was an elephant that we think had been shot by a poacher, because she had a wound that we found afterwards. But she just came out of the water and gave us almost no warning at all, and just ran straight for us and smashed into the front of the vehicle.

There was nothing we could do then except -- actually what I did do then was, as she was about to hit, I took the vehicle out of gear so that there wouldn't be a huge amount of resistance. And she hit, and she pushed us down this little track that we were on for about a hundred yards or so. And then I put the break on, and then she felt the resistance. And that was enough for her to feel uncomfortable and she moved off.

GROSS: Do you ever run into situations where there is a competing filmmaker trying to study the same herd that you are?

DERECK JOUBERT: We have not. That has happened, and it's a very uncomfortable thing. We've kind of selected areas that are just so mean and miserable and tse-tse florid that no one else wants to work there.

GROSS: How do you deal with the misery of the area you're surrounded yourself with, like the insects? Which, by the way, can cause terrible illness.

BEVERLY JOUBERT: Yes, they can. Well, there's normally a precaution. I mean, for mosquitoes there's a precaution that you can sleep under mosquito nets, and those can help. When we're working at nighttime with the lights, actually, that is the worst because that attracts every single insect that is around. And there are insects that actually give out formaldehyde -- they're called blister beetles.

And what happens there is they put a formaldehyde onto your body and huge blisters form on your body. And then, of course, the tse-tse flies have got a nasty burn, and luckily because we're not in areas where we're close to villages, the tse-tse flies do not carry sleeping sickness. So, we're fortunate in that way that if you stay away from other communities you normally will be safe that you're not going to get the illness.

GROSS: Well, you know, I'm just thinking about what it's like when you have a porch light shining in the summer in the United States, and the insects from all the neighborhoods come to your porch light and just warm around. It must be incredible in Africa when you're working at night with the lights.

BEVERLY JOUBERT: It is, especially when I'm holding the lights. I mean, my whole body is just covered. It's like my body is black with insects. But I can't move because Dereck is filming, and we can't move the vehicle because that's almost his tripod.

GROSS: So, what kind of protective clothing are you wearing?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: No protective clothing at all. I'm not wiggling around or squashing them or anything like that. So, normally I'm fine.

DERECK JOUBERT: One of the problems is that even though it's nighttime out there and it's insect season, it's very very hot. So, we're using just the barest minimum of clothing. So, we don't have a lot a protection from these bugs.

GROSS: Now, definitely these films are really worth it to you to subject yourselves to be covered from head to foot with insects while you're filming.

BEVERLY JOUBERT: These films are our babies, so we'll go through everything.

GROSS: Apparently you will go through everything.


Do you think that you've been changed by living around animals and away from people?

DERECK JOUBERT: I know I have. I think that every time we come into town it takes us quite a lot of time to readjust when we go back. We found that we've become much more intense, we've become faster, we're not as thoughtful as we're out in the bush.

Being around animals gives you a far better grasp on life and on death. And makes you a calmer, more peaceful person.

GROSS: Beverly, what would you say?

BEVERLY JOUBERT: I agree with all of that. There are times that when we first arrive in the cities that I'm very uncomfortable around people because, obviously, I'm not used to all the social activities. And there are times that I might be too abrupt because I believe that honesty is the best policy, and often you really have to be a lot more subtle.

But that is what happens when you're out in the bush, you actually do feel that it's pointless playing social games. You're out there and it's really a matter of survival, often. And you respect people, I think, a lot more when you're living out in the bush.

GROSS: Now, I'm thinking that what one does to protect oneself is really different say in the city than it is in the wild. In the wild, I imagine you try to be inobtrusive, to move very slowly so as to not startle an animal; to be as unthreatening as possible.

Whereas in the city sometimes you really want to look threatening so that people don't bother you, you know, so that you look very tough and sure of yourself. And, you know, you should have a kind of jaunty, assertive step when you walk through the street. In some ways exactly the opposite of what you need to do in the wild.

DERECK JOUBERT: That's right. In fact, you guys need guns here. We don't need guns at all.


You're right. Walking in the bush you need to be really quiet and walk slowly. People -- it's quite funny when people come out to us -- we go out for a walk -- and they start striding out there really covering distance. Moving fast, and swinging their arms and that sort of thing, and you don't want to do that. You know, you walk very very slowly.

I find that people in New York, for instance, walk at twice the pace that I do. And you tend to melt in a little easier. For instance, if a lion charges what you do is you don't jump up and down and assert yourself. You just stand your ground and you're quiet -- but confident. And if you didn't, and if you started running around and waving your arms then the lion would jump on you.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.

BEVERLY JOUBERT: Thank you very much, Terry.

DERECK JOUBERT: Thank you, yeah. It was fun.

GROSS: Dereck and Beverly Joubert recorded in 1994 just before the broadcast of their film, "Reflections on Elephants." They are now at work on a theatrical film about elephants. They'll be featured in the National Geographic "Explorer" series this January in an episode called "Wild Passions: A Behind the Scenes Look at Wildlife Filmmakers."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Beverly and Dereck Joubert
High: Beverly and Dereck Joubert are wildlife documentary producers. This husband and wife team lived in northern Botswana and captured on film the family relationships of the last free-roaming elephants left in Africa. Their 1994 film "Reflections on Elephants" contained ground-breaking footage of lions attacking an elephant calf. Previously, such attacks were thought to be only mythical. Their book, "Hunting With the Moon: The Lions of Savuti," was published last year.
Spec: Animals; Africa; Movie Industry; Beverly Joubert; Dereck Joubert

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Beverly and Dereck Joubert

Date: DECEMBER 29, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122902NP.217
Head: Doug Peacock
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: We've heard about some of the wildlife threatened in Africa. Let's get closer to home. A century ago, more than a thousand grizzly bears lived in the continental United States. Today, it's estimated that one percent of that number, approximately 1,000 grizzlies roam the Western wilderness of the lower 48.

Doug Peacock is an authority on the grizzly bear, and has waged a campaign for more than 25 years to save the grizzlies habitat. In 1996 he told FRESH AIR guest host Marti Moscowayne (ph) about a scary encounter with a grizzly. He was sitting on a ridge in Glacier National Park watching a mother and her cub in a meadow, when all of a sudden the black grizzly appeared.

DOUG PEACOCK, ENVIRONMENTALIST; AUTHOR, "THE GRIZZLY YEARS": Well, actually it was on a knife edge ridge in the wildest part of Glacier National Park where people never go -- there's no trails. It's not a very attractive place, it's buggy and brushy, not very scenic. But it's just full of grizzly bears.

And this bear that I call a black grizzly really was my Moby Dick grizzly. He was an incredible bear but a cantankerous one. And I was on the top of this ridge looking almost straight down watching a mother with her yearling cub browse on huckleberries. It was late August and that's what the bears eat up there.

And after about 15 minutes I was aware of some noise way down at the bottom of this little valley, a little mountain circ, and you can hear grizzlies a lot of the time before you ever see them in country like that. And all of a sudden I saw, and recognized, this black grizzly who, among this group of grizzlies that congregate in a loosely -- they don't get together for social occasions, but they get together and put up with one another because of the food. And so it's like a gathering of grizzlies when they're maybe, oh, 20 and 30 grizzlies in an area just a few square miles.

And they form a sort of dominant hierarchy, and at the top of this hierarchy sat this black grizzly. And it's hard to sex adult grizzlies, but big black ones tend to be males. There's no question in my mind that this black grizzly was the dominant male of this social congregation.

And so I watched these three bears, unaware of each other, browse on huckleberries, move up the side of mountain. And it had occurred to me that the black grizzly was closing on this mother and her yearling grizzly cub. And I didn't know what was going to happen. At the same time, I'm in the middle of no place; there's a winter storm blowing in; and my tent is on the top of a ridge about a mile away. And all of this is unfolding between me and my tent.

Anyway, I look down and all of a sudden I heard a roar and a rush, and I saw the black grizzly racing uphill -- there's -- grizzly bears can run very very fast, up to 41 miles per hour. That's a lot faster than any of our Olympic athletes, you know, by a factor of 15 to 17 miles per hour. And they can run up or downhill at amazing rates, and he ran right up towards this mother and her cub.

And the mother, naturally, raced ahead of this grizzly, ran across the ridge not more than a hundred feet in front of me; the bear is unaware of my presence, and continued contouring around the side of a mountain. And the black grizzly was closing in on this mother until the black grizzly was just inches behind the yearling cub that looked like it was going to get killed. And at the last minute the mother bear just spun effortlessly on her rear paws and turned around and met this black grizzly. And they roared, and they locked jaws and they both rose to a standing position.

And the roars, you know, were the likes of which I have only heard maybe three times in all of nature, just filled this mountain valley. And this went on for several minutes, and to make a long story short, all of a sudden the black grizzly, when it looked like he was really going to break the neck of this mother -- this female grizzly -- just turned his head off to the side. And that's a sign that he was done fighting.

MARTI MOSCOWAYNE, HOST: Is that a sign that he believes he won?

PEACOCK: No, it's just a sign that he's done fighting. Grizzlies do this to each other all the time. And once they turn, you know, turn their flank like that, turn their head away, neither grizzly will violate that. It's -- I don't know what to make of that -- but that's just the way it is. And then slowly the mother moved up hill, rejoined her cub, and the black grizzly stood there on the mountaintop with the sun disappearing behind the ridge between me and my tent.

MOSCOWAYNE: And you wanted to get back to your tent.

PEACOCK: It was going to snow that night. And I didn't want to freeze out on the ridge, you know.

MOSCOWAYNE: But you had this big grizzly bear that was in the way. How did you disguise yourself in order to try to pass by him?

PEACOCK: Well, I had to make a decision -- I had no other option -- I had to get back up to my tent. This was sort of a dangerously cold night. I probably wouldn't have died, but I would have been miserable in about six inches of wet snow. So I decided I had to go, more or less, face him down. And I don't know what I do when I'm in those situations, I've done it a number of times.

Each time I just sort of let my instincts go, and this time I just remembered I happened to be filming. That's what I was doing in this country, I was not a biologist, I was making a last documentary film of what I thought would be the last free-ranging grizzlies in the continental United States.

So, I had a garbage bag, you know, one in each hand, kind of brown and black; and black and brown grizzlies tend to be males. And I started walking towards this grizzly. And he's only 50 to 100 feet away and he hadn't seen me yet.

And when he looked at me, with me talking -- I talk to bears, I don't think it's terribly important what I say, I never remember what I say, but I do talk to them. I never look at them. This is the way they behave around one another.

And, you know, this bear saw me and looked straight at me. Grizzlies don't do this to one another because that's a direct confrontation. And his ears went back and the rough on his back stood up, not unlike a dog, and that means probably you're going to get charged when that happens. And this bear did take one great hop charge, I would call it, slammed his paws down, and closed about half the distance to me.

And that was a long time ago, but I think this all unfolded in the next 30 or 40 seconds. But I remember talking to the bear, the bear looking straight at me from no more than 25 feet away and then suddenly without making a sound the grizzly turned his head smoothly and gracefully off to the side and just disappeared into the brush.

MOSCOWAYNE: Well, even though you say it is a matter what you were saying to the bear, what were you saying to the bear?

PEACOCK: Probably something like, "hey, black grizzly it's just me, good old Rapaho (ph)." You know, I used to call myself the Rapaho then. And something like, "hey, give me another chance. I'll make it up to you later." I remember thinking that that's probably what I said. But it's the tone of voice like an animal trainer would talk to a horse that's important.

MOSCOWAYNE: What does that tone sound like?

PEACOCK: I think it's conciliatory. It's not loud, but it's loud enough to identify yourself as a human being because I wanted him to know what I was.

MOSCOWAYNE: Once you got to the camp the bear came back two more times.


MOSCOWAYNE: It sounds like...

PEACOCK:, that was quite a night. I did. I got to this little camp which is nothing more than a clump of trees at the top of a mountain, right at timber line. It's steep, it's a little knoll, like a pyramid on three sides. And I'd built a fire that night, and I had never built a fire out there because I don't want to drive the bears away. The bears don't necessarily like fire smoke.

But I did that night because I was -- I got to the top of that ridge and I found myself shaking uncontrollably and, which, you know, hadn't happened to me, at that time, since Vietnam. And I started a little fire, and it was dark by then, and no more than an hour later I could hear the brush crunching -- bears make a lot of noise, especially at night. And this grizzly was coming up the side of the hill to check me out.

And I got a few plumes of bear grass burning, actually it doesn't burn very well either, I got it burning with a bunch of sticks. I went off to the side with a little torch ten feet from the fire, and I could actually see the bear's eyes and talked to it some more, and it went back down the mountain.

Well, about 45 minutes later I heard the bear coming up a different angle on the mountain. And doing the same thing, and this scene repeated itself until about 2 a.m. And when everything got quiet the bear left and I fell asleep.

MOSCOWAYNE: Sounds almost personal.

PEACOCK: It was personal. I think. You're never sure of these things, but three days later that same grizzly found my stash of gear tied high in a tree, and this bag contained a tent, a sleeping bag, a dirty T-shirt and some other stuff. The bear didn't touch the tent or anything else, but it literally ate the sleeping bag and the dirty T-shirt. Everything that smelled of me delivering a very personal message which I took to heart, and I left the mountain the same day.

GROSS: You're listening to grizzly bear expert Doug Peacock in conversation with Marti Moscowayne. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: It's animal week on FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Marti Moscowayne's 1996 interview with grizzly bear expert Doug Peacock.

MOSCOWAYNE: You've been tracking and writing about and talking about bears for almost three decades. What got you first interested?

PEACOCK: My first -- my first connection with grizzly bears was -- because I was a Green Beret medic in Vietnam, and I came back after the Tet Offensive, like many other Vets, completely out of sorts. And I didn't -- I wasn't any good around people. Didn't want to be around people. The one place that I've always been comfortable all my life is the woods -- the wilderness.

And so I was -- I lived in the American West, and I followed the snow line up towards the rivers of Wyoming and eventually up into Yellowstone. And that's where I ran into grizzlies. But I didn't know anything about grizzlies, I just -- I had a malaria attack, and I had to go back into an area of Yellowstone which I knew had hot springs.

And I was going to soak in the hot springs and sort of regain my health, you know, like the old spas. And one day I was soaking in a little hot creek in Yellowstone, and it was, you know, it's quite hot. It's like a little bathtub and the water is probably 108 or 10. You know, it's hot enough so that you've got to get in kind of slow.

But I looked off to the side, crossed a little meadow, and there's a mother grizzly and two big yearling cubs. And I didn't know anything about mother grizzlies at that time, but -- except you're supposed to stay away from them. You know, avoid them, they're the most dangerous animal on the continent.

So, I was soaking in this little hot creek, and it was October, the wind was blowing, the mother grizzly and her cub were probably 150 feet away. They weren't looking at me. They hadn't seen me. But when they weren't looking I decided I would make a dash for this tree. So, I stood up and made a fullback's rush for this tree.

Well, you know, the whirlpool-like effect of the hot water took all the blood away from my brain. I immediately blacked out. I hit the tree. Smacked, you know, head-on with my forehead. Cut a huge gash in my forehead. The blood was running down into my eyes, but I was so terrified I managed to get up the tree anyway.

And I got right up to the top of the tree, you know, right up to the outer most branches. And it turns out it really wasn't much bigger than a Christmas tree. It was sort of a stupid little tree, no more than 10 feet tall. And I'd clung to the upper branches of this tree for about -- for the next 40 minutes while the grizzly bear and her two cubs grazed in this meadow.

Coming, sometimes, as close as 20 or 30 feet away. But never looking at me, pretending -- they knew, of course, I was up there but they never looked at me. And, meantime, here I am, it's 40 degrees out, the wind is blowing, I'm bleeding, I'm naked, I'm blue with cold and perched in the top of this silly little tree like some species of...

MOSCOWAYNE: ...I'm sorry to laugh.

PEACOCK: Silly, you know, cohee (ph) or sparrow of some kind. Anyway, those bears, they got my attention. That's where it began.

MOSCOWAYNE: Do you feel a kind of kinship with grizzly bears?

PEACOCK: I do. And in those days it was really clear to me in the safety of retrospect now 30 years later -- almost 30 years later. That those bears really saved my life. You know, they allowed me to re-gather the elements of my own humanity. And for complicated reasons of gratitude and duty, you know, I felt it was my responsibility to do what I could to improve their plight on earth.

And, you know, curiously 25-30 years later, you know, I had sort of decided in those days that my battleground, my war, would be the war for the American wilderness. And today, some 25 years later, that seems as solid now, today, as it did then.

GROSS: Doug Peacock spoke with FRESH AIR guest host Marti Moscowayne in 1996. Peacock is the author of "The Grizzly Years: in Search of the American Wilderness."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Doug Peacock
High: Environmentalist Doug Peacock. He's devoted the last 20 years to saving the grizzly bear. Like many Veterans, he had trouble adjusting when he returned from Vietnam. He sought a life of seclusion in the mountains and it was then that he first encountered grizzly bears. Now, he performs research alone through the mountains of Wyoming and Montana studying the behavior, social hierarchy, and communication methods of grizzlies in their natural habitat. his books include "Grizzly Years, "Baja," and "Walking it Off."
Spec: Animals; Environment; Doug Peacock

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Doug Peacock
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Neither the pandemic nor age can keep choreographer Twyla Tharp from her work

Twyla Moves, a documentary by PBS American Masters, tells the story of the legendary choreographer, who got her start performing on subway platforms in the 1960s. Originally broadcast April 8, 2021.


Photographer and director Gordon Parks captured the Black experience

Parks, who died in 2006, worked for Life magazine and later became the first Black director of a Hollywood film. He's the subject of the documentary, A Choice of Weapons. Originally broadcast in 1990.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.


Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue