Bart Schleyer - The Last Wild Man

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solospiritsbartschleyerDr. Maurice Hornocker, founder of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute, is a world-renowned authority on large cats, primarily the American cougar. He wanted to build a team of researchers with sufficient skill and knowledge to study the Siberian tiger and Far Eastern Leopard.

Bart had considerable experience catching grizzly bears using the foot snare technique developed by Jack Aldrich. Dr Hornocker hired Bart as a capture specialist in 1993 to work on the Siberian Tiger Project in Russia. Russian scientists were having difficulty capturing adult tigers using box or log traps. Although skeptical of the foot snare, they were open to suggestions.

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This paved the way for a joint international effort to study tigers in their natural habitat with the goal of stabilizing and eventually increasing their numbers. Bart had the skill and enthusiasm for the job, and the personality and lack of arrogance to fit well with the team. This was very important since it was vital for the research team to work with and gain support from the Russian community. The Soviet Union was in disarray, and team members were acting as ambassadors to a nation undergoing great changes. Dr. Hornocker says, “We were not there to show the Russians how to conduct their research. This was a joint effort of like-minded scientists whose goal was to help each other learn more about tigers.”

Electronic predator calls imitating distress cries from wild boars were used to draw tigers into an area where foot snares were placed. This method worked on young tigers, but it did not often fool adult cats. Catching them required many thousands of set-hours along trails or scent trees. Once captured and tranquilized, accurate measurements and assessment of health were recorded prior to tagging and securing a radio-telemetry collar around the animal’s neck. This was vital to understanding the range, habitat requirements, and the birthing and mortality rates of the tiger population.

When I asked Dr. Hornocker to describe Bart, he answered: “Bart was the king of the understatement. I once asked Bart how one of his bowhunting trips in Alaska went. Bart told of finding a beached whale that bears were feeding on. Bart made a stalk across the open shore towards two of them as they fed. Somehow they detected his presence. One ran off, but the larger of the two came at Bart. ‘What did you do then?’ I asked. “Bart simply said, ‘Well, I shot him.’ That was it. He never really got too excited with his story telling. Bart was a great guy. One of best.”

Bart worked in Russia for many years and established lasting friendships with many of people there, including fellow field researcher Losha Kostyria and Dale Miquelle, director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Russia. Bart fell in love with the deputy director, and they had a son named Artyom. Bart also met Galina Maximova, the director for the URAGUS Club, a youth ecological organization. Bart spent a great deal of time there making bows and arrows for the kids and teaching them to shoot. Even though they weren’t allowed to hunt with bows, they could still feel a connection to the land as they developed archery skills.

My brother Mark and I talked to Bart in the spring and fall of 20barttiger203. He spoke of his work with the Siberian Tiger Project, Hornocker Wildlife Institute, and Wildlife Conservation Society. Bart said they captured and collared over 30 adult tigers, but recapture had become difficult using foot snares.

He said that using tranquilizer darts shot from a helicopter was more productive and enabled them to continue to plot data from the animals and replace batteries in the telemetry collars. He indicated the work was exciting, rewarding and at times very intense as they monitored vital signs and maintained anesthesia during capture. Of the tigers on study, more than half of their food prey was elk (red deer), while boar comprised about one fifth of their diet. It was rare for tigers to prey on livestock, but some aged or injured animals were forced to hunt near human settlements. One tiger he tracked would catch dogs and consume them in his lair, leaving only their heads.

Some older tigers would also stalk and kill brown bears, which were easier to catch than elk. Following tigers with radio locators, Bart could read these stories in the snow. The tigers usually just walked the bears down from behind. The big cats had killer instincts and usually about a hundred pound weight advantage on the bears. They would go straight for the neck and sever the spine at the base of the skull. Every once in a while the trampled snow would tell of a furious fight, which always ended with a dead bear. During the study, the team determined that vehicle injuries and poachers caused most tiger mortality.

Bart said that if the tigers were going to survive, humans were going to have to want them to and find ways to share the same ecosystems. I could tell that Bart was proud of the team’s work as they made progress in habitat planning, forest usage, establishing travel corridors, and public relations. Insurance policies were provided to farmers who suffered livestock losses. He said, “The science is great, but ultimately we need the support of the people who live and work along side these great cats if we are going to succeed.”

My conversation with Bart continued as I described the two-week black bear hunt I just finished. I told him of making 91 bear sightings. Too much devils club in the wrong place spoiled my goal of taking a mature male. However, I did view the hunt as a success. Bart listened as I told him stories of filming a newborn calf moose, mountain goats jumping a gorged above me, and Dall sheep that followed the green-up to feed at lower elevation. He was very interested in the film project my two brothers and I were working on with Gene and Barry Wensel.

Bart went on to tell me of his plans to guide brown bear hunts and that he was pleased to have received his guide’s license. We concluded our talk with a discussion of hunting bears and Bart’s plan to build a horn bow. Ironically, as I left Fosters Taxidermy shop, Bart went back to the task at hand, fleshing a grizzly bear hide. This was the last time I saw him.

Learn More about Bart Schleyer from BrotherSoftTheBow

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