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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