Monday, January 22, 2007

Michael Bleyman once told me . . .

“The secret”, Michael Bleyman once told me, as a baby animal nipped and clawed on his exposed hand, “is to not care.” This was a surprising statement coming from a man who cared more passionately about animals and preserving the natural environment than anyone I have ever known. And sure enough, the little animal got bored and went on to other, more exciting pursuits. If Michael had reacted to the animal’s playful aggression, rest assured that baby would have kept on biting. The meaning of Michael’s statement will stay with me always: care about what’s important and don’t worry about the trivial.

Michael was an amazing combination of someone who knew how to deal with day-to-day events while having a strong vision of what could be. He had an incredible rapport with the animals at CPT – seeming to know more about them then they did themselves. He was not their caretaker, he was their comrade, and together, they explored life. He would go out of his way to make sure the animals had what they needed, both to survive and to enjoy their lives at CPT. Michael delighted in introducing new volunteers to CPT’s animals - as though to say “Here is this wonderful place I’ve created – come join me.” After a very short time of being at CPT, I found myself saying “we” instead of “you” when it came to CPT. Michael had the gift of enrollment and you just wanted to be part of what he was up to. He had big visions. He wanted to give the CPT animals good lives, and his ultimate goal was to preserve their species because they were required to support the infrastructure of endangered ecosystems. To do this, he bred the animals according to strict guidelines to ensure their genetic diversity. CPT’s mission gave us a sense of purpose, like we were up to something big; something beyond the CPT compound. And in the meantime, we got the experience of a lifetime playing with exotic animals and getting to know them on a personal level.

On volunteer workdays, Michael was literally hands on in the compound. He loved driving heavy equipment. There was nothing like the sight of Michael driving the towering Skytrak through the compound, past tiger cages and the horses that ran loose in the area. Then the bravest volunteers would be lifted up on the platform to put roofs on enclosures. Michael pulled chain link fence and dug in the mud right along with everyone else, and at each water break, would tell fascinating stories about animals he had helped rescue or catch or about some environmental issue he was currently concerned about.

A volunteer once described him as “brilliant, crazy Michael.” And that sums it up. He was not only very well educated in biology and genetics, he had the personal experience to be an expert in his field. It was no accident that people from all points on the globe sought his advice. You can’t throw your whole life into caring for endangered animals and trying to make the world a better place without being a bit crazy and eccentric. We volunteers forgave his mood swings and his constant changing of priorities – would we finish the enclosure from last week or be on to a new project this week? The obvious fact was that this charismatic man cared deeply about the animals and he loved life. Michael gave those who knew him a view of what life is like when you really care, you want to make a difference, and you actually do something about it. And the best news was, you could be part of it too.
A long-time CPT volunteer

From the blog In Honor of Dr. Michael Bleyman:

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Michael Bleyman was an unforgettable man.

Michael Bleyman was an unforgettable man. His strong personality and indomitable will were the forces behind the creation of the Carnivore Preservation Trust. Against tremendous odds and the conventional wisdom of “mainstream” conservationists, Michael forged an organization that espoused radical new ideas about breeding and species preservation. His wealth of knowledge and charismatic style attracted a group of volunteers and donors who were totally devoted to him and to the animals in his care.

Accomplishing the impossible was a daily occurrence with Michael. If people said it couldn’t be done, he would set out to prove them wrong. In its early years, CPT provided care for over 100 animals using only volunteer labor. At one time, CPT held the world record for successful breeding of kinkajous, a species with which other organizations had experienced difficulty.

Michael was a visionary who saw into the future beyond the accepted norms of the conservation and breeding organizations of his day. Among his controversial ideas:

Intensive breeding of certain species should begin before the species was identified as endangered. By the time the species was designated as “endangered,” there would not be enough individuals left to assure a healthy breeding population.
Cross breeding of sub species would enhance the genetic strength of the species. It was his belief that some sub species populations were already so depleted that continuing to breed only within sub species would further compromise their genetic integrity.
Hand raising of baby animals would make them more accepting of human interaction and would result in animals who were not unduly stressed by cage cleaning or other routine contact necessary for their health and wellbeing.

The breeding focus that Michael established for CPT was for certain “keystone” species that were critical to their habitats. These were animals that performed vital functions such as seed dispersal, pollination, and pest control. The depletion of these “keystone” species would result in a collapse of the ecosystem.

In addition to the breeding and species preservation activities of CPT, Michael was active in providing sanctuary for animals rescued from abusive or negligent situations. His true love was the big cats, and he took in as many unfortunates as there was room for. The stories are familiar: the jaguar found in a Goldsboro junkyard; the three female tigers abandoned in a cattle car in Virginia; the jaguar with a broken leg that was locked up in a basement in a vacant building; and the cougars that were formerly “pets” and grew too big and unmanageable.

Michael wisely recognized that, in order to generate support and interest in conservation, you have to make it personal. Unlike the usual zoos, CPT offered a chance for people to get to know and interact with individual animals. Once they grew to love the personalities of Romeo tiger, Elwood jaguar, or De-Claudine sun bear, they could no longer shrug off conservation as a vague concept unrelated to their lives.

Those who knew Michael feel privileged to have been in the presence of true genius. And those who came to CPT after his death still feel his strong influence in the stories that are told about him and the legacy he left behind.

- a friend of Dr. Bleyman

From the blog In Honor of Dr. Michael Bleyman:

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