Can real turtles compete with ninja turtles when it comes to garnering people’s attention? I hadn’t given it much thought until I had the chance to hear Casey Anderson, host of National Geographic WILD series at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. “My goal is to make wild cool again,” said Anderson as he kicked off a ninety-minute presentation on this experiences with captive animals and as a producer of several wildlife shows.
Thirteen years ago, Anderson rescued a grizzly cub from an overcrowded wildlife ark in Idaho, building a wildlife sanctuary when Brutus grew too big for the house. Anderson took on the role of father to Brutus, showing him how to fish and fend for himself. Brutus in turn, gave Anderson insight into the world of animals. I figured anyone who had a grizzly as the best man at his wedding had a lock on cool and I wanted to learn more.
In autumn the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers programs that combine luxury and learning, a chance to expand your waistline and your mind – although the lure of hiking trails just outside the door will take care of the former. For those wanting to learn more about what it is like to live with a pet grizzly, the Fairmont offers a special Into The Wild with Casey Anderson package that offers the chance to swap bear stories over dinner and hike to Lake Agnes together. I was one of the lucky ten people who got to rub shoulders with National Geographic royalty.
After a get-acquainted reception on Friday evening, the group rose early to beat the crowds headed to the teahouse at Lake Agnes. The hike started with steady rain that turned to snow by the time we reached Mirror Lake. The weather diminished the stream of tourists bound for Agnes Lake, those that braved the weather sported rain jackets and ponchos, the rainbow of colors a vivid splash against the dark green forest and muddy trail. The trail is only 3.5 kilometers but the elevation gain (365 meters) had everyone puffing. Anderson arrived at Lake Louise looking like he’d just stepped out of the chateau, not surprising for someone who regularly hikes kilograms of camera gear over mountains. His curly dark hair was wet beneath his omnipresent beanie and his smile genuine as he posed for photos.
We found shelter under several pine trees and Anderson told us what it was like to film a reality show (the star suffers while the crew gets battery packs and bear helicoptered in) and his experiences with hypothermia. Not wanting to give him another hypothermia story for his repertoire, we headed down the mountain to warm up for the afternoon presentation.
Anderson’s formal show explained how what it takes to survive a cougar attack (70 stitches and a promise to never forget), what it’s like to have a pet grizzly (Brutus likes belly rubs) and what happens when cougars move into your neighborhood (coming soon to a TV near you). He explained, “wild bears don’t want to be your friend, they don’t want to be imposed upon.” But his friendship with a captive bear has helped him understand wild bears better, finding behaviors in the wild that “validate what Brutus has been showing me.” Anderson is convinced animals feel emotion and when he saw Brutus cry tears from a bellyache, “it shattered everything I thought I knew,” Casey said. “It is my goal to make sure no other animals live in captivity.”
To accomplish this, Anderson wants to excite people and show them that there are superheroes in nature, if only we take the time to look. Anderson had me convinced when he showed a video of a cougar jumping out of a tree onto a goPro camera he had left near a kill. With no cape or latex tights, the big cat jumped as well as any superhero and bounded out of the scene. In other footage, Anderson showed how ravens will lead a bear to an animal carcass too large for the birds to rip apart, in the hopes the bear can crack it open, kind of like leading a can opener to a can of beans! Animals he explained “are something more than we ever imagined.”
With Anderson’s stories in my mind, I headed to one of the Fairmont’s fine restaurants for dinner; no bear to open up the cans here, but one bear named Brutus had definitely opened my mind.