The Shark Whisperer and Other Animal Whisperers
The 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer brought the word “whisperer” to public consciousness, meaning a person who has an extraordinary ability to relate to and communicate with animals. Such a person is considered just one rung below Dr. Doolittle. No matter how it’s done, the term “whisperer” conveys the seemingly magical abilities of these folks to get into an animal's head. And quite a few animal experts have been graced with the title, although many deal with animals the rest of us don’t want to.
1. Ned Bruha, the Skunk Whisperer
Photograph from Facebook.
Photograph from Facebook.
Ned Bruha is known as the Skunk Whisperer. In fact, that’s the name of the TV show in which he stars, and his wildlife control business (formerly Bruha’s Nuisance Wildlife Control, Inc.) in Oklahoma. Bruha grew up among forest creatures, and developed control techniques as a boy when he learned how to keep chipmunks from disturbing gravesites. By studying ecosystems, he learned the value of proper wildlife relocation instead of extermination. Bruha’s business focuses on changing the environment to make it less attractive to wildlife, instead of having to constantly trap and relocate animals. And it isn’t just skunks; Bruha will relocate squirrels, raccoons, opossums, geese, foxes, coyotes, and other creatures. His Facebook page is dedicated to education about wildlife and support for wildlife rehabilitation centers and conservation programs.
2. Kevin Richardson, the Lion Whisperer
Kevin Richardson is called the Lion Whisperer because of his uncanny ability to relate to South Africa’s wildlife, especially lions. When you first encounter Richardson in a video, you almost believe he is going to be eaten at any moment. When he began working at a safari park 16 years ago, he rebelled against the established rules of dealing with predators with an iron fist. Instead, he learns each individual animal’s personality, and responds in a way the beast will relate to. With lions, he became part of their family, which inspired the title of his book Part of the Pride. Richardson works with conservation organizations to benefit the animals, and also as a consultant and animal handler for movies and TV.
3. Spikehorn Meyers, the Bear Whisperer
Photograph from Flickr user Don...The UpNorth Memories Guy... Harrison
Photograph from Flickr user Don...The UpNorth Memories Guy... Harrison.
John “Spikehorn” Meyers opened a "Bear and Deer Park" on his property in Harrison, Michigan around 1930. According to Don Harrison, Spikehorn was a character and a jack of all trades who wove colorful tales of frontier life for tourists who would visit his park. There are plenty of pictures of Spikehorn, as he sold postcards of himself interacting with the bears. See a video of Spikehorn in action (in color). He was not known during his life as a bear whisperer, because that term had not come into use before he died in 1959, but he was called “The Bear Man of Michigan.”
4. RC Bridges, the Buffalo Whisperer
Screenshot from BBC One
Screenshot from BBC One.
RC Bridges of Quinlan, Texas, grew up doing rodeo stunts, and also worked as a wildlife ranger and a farrier. In 2005, he took in an orphan baby buffalo he named Wildthing. Wildthing was treated like any member of the family, coming and going in the house like a human. As Wildthing grew, he was given a room of his own. Bridges taught his buffalo to dance, to pull a cart, and even to ride in his car. In 2012, he took in another buffalo named Bullet. See more pictures of Bridges and his buffalo.
5. The Pig Whisperer
Dutch veterinarian Dr. Kees Scheepens is a consultant to pig farmers in Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries. He has earned the nickname The Pig Whisperer for his holistic approach to understanding pigs. Scheepens’ business Pig Signals aims to educate farmers on how to monitor their pigs’ needs and manage their care and health to the best of their ability. Here, you can see Scheepens de-stressing a piglet to the point that the animal appears to be hypnotized.
6. The Horse Whisperers
The Horse Whisperer is a book and movie about natural horsemanship. “Natural horsemanship” is a term used to describe techniques that train a horse for human use by befriending the animal and understanding and using the horse’s natural tendencies to shape a rapport with humans. It’s a departure from the traditional methods of breaking and coercing a horse. Although the style has been used here and there throughout history, two of the earliest modern proponents of the technique as it used today were brothers Tom Dorrance and Bill Dorrance, who passed their technique on to others.
Ray Hunt was a student of Tom Dorrance, and held clinics to teach natural horsemanship techniques to horse owners and trainers across the United States. He also distributed videos and books about horse training.
One of Ray Hunt’s students was Buck Brannaman (shown above). Brannaman was the trainer who was the inspiration for the title character in Nicholas Evans’ book The Horse Whisperer, which was the basis for the movie. He also served as a consultant on the film.
7. Honza Bláha, the Czech Horse Whisperer
Honza Bláha is known as the Czech horse whisperer. He holds clinics to teach his techniques in his hometown of Srbice, Czech Republic. In this video, you can see how he gets horses to dance, ride in formation, and “act” without saddles or bridles. He has a rider’s crop, but we don’t see him use it for anything besides pointing. According to Bláha’s biography, horse training must be individually designed for each horse, because they all have different personalities.
8. Andre "The Shark Whisperer" Hartman
South African diver Andre Hartman is known as The Shark Whisperer. Hartman and a friend opened a business called Marine Dynamics to take tourists underwater in cages to observe great white sharks in action.
Then one day, he discovered the secret 'whisper' that has made him world famous. Often while they were out diving, the Great Whites would out of curiosity try and take a bite off the boat's motor. Concerned that they would harm it, he pushed one off by touching the tip of its snout. To his surprise, the big fish lunged up and then fell backwards, like it was in a happy trance!
What he had accidently done is touch the Ampullae of Lorenzini, the electronic receptors found in the snouts of cartilaginous fish like sharks and rays. They are so sensitive that just a mere touch creates a rush of information and puts the fish into a temporary sensor overload - The shark is so overwhelmed by this experience that for a few moments, it goes into a trance.
Hartman became so used to being around sharks that he would sometimes even swim among them and grab a fin to be pulled along. His foot was bitten by a shark in 2004, but he has fully recovered and went right back to the shark diving business.