On the Wild Side

Animal adventures with Chris Morgan

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Although he spends a sizeable amount of his life traveling the globe in order to study enormous animals with dangerously long teeth and razor-sharp claws, Bellingham resident Chris Morgan wants it to be known that he is not “some crazy bear whisperer.”

“I don’t have a mind-to-mind relationship with them,” he says. Instead, the well-known bear ecologist and conservationist—who, in addition to his outreach work with the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (GBOP) in the North Cascades has also brought attention to those of the ursine persuasion via a three-part PBS nature special, Bears of the Last Frontier, and numerous other television appearances—relies on scientific observation to find out as much as he can about the bears of the world.

On Feb. 17, when Morgan brings his multimedia presentation, “On the Wild Side,” to the Mount Baker Theatre’s mainstage, he’ll be sharing some of what he’s learned in the years since he left England to pursue his dream on a full-time basis.

“The show is a little bit of everything,” Morgan says. “I’m telling the story of wild places in a fun, inspiring way through the eyes of some of the animals I know well—bears, mostly, but also wolves, tigers and caribou.”

As the show is tailor-made for a local audience, much of the epic footage that can be viewed at the event will be seen by members of the general public for the first time. This includes, Morgan says, footage focusing on Siberian tigers shot by a South Korean filmmaker who was so dedicated to bringing attention to the rare, dwindling species that he spent six months at a time in a hole in the ground in a Siberian hinterland. 

Attendees can also expect to view footage from Beartrek, a feature-length documentary focusing on bear conservation that’s been five years in the making and is just now coming to its final fruition. In it, Morgan—and his motorcycle—travel to Alaska (to study the enormous grizzly bear population), Borneo (to check out the smallest bears in the world), Peru (where they encounter spectacle bears), and Canada (where polar bears are battling climate change in the Arctic).

Interaction will also be part of “On the Wild Side,” and, in addition to sharing stories of his adventures and eye-popping clips, Morgan says he’s looking forward to leading the largest wolf howl ever.

And, while he promises the gig won’t be a boring lecture focused on telling humans everything they’re doing wrong, Morgan acknowledges that conservation of wild things—especially grizzly bears—is at the heart of the work that he does.

“Bears represent what’s good for all of us,” he says. “If we protect grizzly bears—who need open spaces, water, forests and clean air—we’re actually looking out for ourselves, as well. I’m a pragmatic conservationist, and I know we need to find tools to manage that relationship. I see a future that has room for both wilderness and people—and everything in between.”

Morgan also points out that he’s aware those who will be attending his presentation don’t need to go to Borneo or Siberia to find wilderness, because it can be found nearby in the North Cascades, or even during an afternoon hike on Galbraith. What he wants to do is open up people’s minds, at least for a couple hours.

“What I’d really like people to come for is an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of some of the animals, and the things I’ve been lucky enough to do,” Morgan says. “I want them to sit in the theater, but feel like they’re a million miles away. I want them to leave feeling open-minded and inspired and rejuvenated and happy.”

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