Animal Whispering may seem to be a modern method of gently communicating with animals but it’s actually a kinder, gentler form of inter-species communication with thousands of years of history to back it up. Though the 7 amazing animal whisperers profiled here aren’t the only ones using both the term and the methods, their skill, notoriety and knack for self-promotion have enabled them to be heard over the roar of the crowd.
The Dog Whisperer
“How can I help?”, asks Cesar Millan as soon as he walks into the room. The 42-year-old former illegal immigrant may be the most well-known of all animal whisperers, primarily due to his listeners of choice: dogs.
Even with 65 million potential “patients” in the United States alone, however, it’s taken Millan’s powerful yet persuasive personality to build Dog Whispering into a 7-figure-grossing corporation dedicated to making every dog owner an unchallenged leader of the pack in his own home.
(image via: Tontin247 / Deviantart)
Cesar Millan learned how to work with animals on his grandfather’s farm in Sinaloa, Mexico, where he soon acquired the nickname El Perrero (“The Dog Boy”) for the natural way he interacted with canines. Nowadays he espouses his philosophy of dog management on his hit TV show, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. By stressing the principles of exercise, discipline and affection (in that order), Millan teaches the owners of even the most recalcitrant dogs that they can assume and maintain a leadership role that benefits both owners and pets.
The Bird Whisperer
(images via: TheBirdWhisperer.com)
You may not have heard of Ken Globus, but the bespectacled gent who became known as the Bird Whisperer tamed thousands of antisocial avians over the past 25+ years. Ken learned how to deal with birds at his parents’ pet store in Inglewood, California, where almost all of the birds were caught in the wild. By literally throwing out the books on bird-raising and using his own innate sensitivity, he eventually established a new way of taming even the most un-handleable birds.
(image via: TheBirdWhisperer.com)
That’s Ken above, left, with filmmaker Steven Spielberg on the right holding his pet Panama Amazon parrot, Blanche.
(images via: Parrot Chronicles)
Sadly, Ken Globus passed away on September 10th, 2008, but his pioneering technique of “progressive desensitization” is being taken up by a new generation of Bird Whisperers.
The Shark Whisperer
Cristina Zenato has been referred to as “the First Lady of Shark Diving” but doesn’t Shark Whisperer sound way cooler? I mean, whispering underwater is tough enough as it is without a Great White Shark trying to horn in on the conversation… and just try finding ol’ Mac the Knife’s ear in the first place!
Inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in March of 2011, Cristina Zenato has been a tireless advocate for the welfare of sharks and is the Diving Supervisor, Dive Instructor and Shark Dive professional at UNEXSO (UNderwater EXplorers SOciety) on Grand Bahama Island. Cristina has learned the delicate procedure of tonic immobility from her mentor, Ben Rose, and has used the technique to remove hooks from the mouths of oft-voracious Caribbean Reef sharks.
Here’s a quite beautiful video of Cristina Zenato making shark-play look like child’s play… and not the one starring Chucky. Prepare to be amazed:
(image via: Innocent Bystanders)
Not to be outdone in the shark whispering department (and in other news, there’s a shark whispering department) is Mike Rutzen, a South African diver who’s been dubbed “Sharkman” by his less-daring fellow divers. Rutzen performs tonic immobility on sharks by balancing them face-down on his palm and massaging their snouts. How he gets them into that position in the first place is another story entirely.
The Wolf Whisperer
“My, what big ears you have!”, said Little Red Riding Hood to the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe if Li’l Red had applied Shaun Ellis’ wolf whispering methodology and talked to the ears, not the hand, maybe Grandma would still be alive & kicking and the wolf wouldn’t seem quite so big and bad. Ellis, also known as The Wolfman, takes “hands-on” interaction to the highest level possible without actually becoming a member of a wolfpack… oh wait, he’s done that too.
(image via: Erin Flight’s Blog)
Quite a different way to interact with wolves is conducted at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, where captive wolf packs have been maintained since 1989. Wolves at the IWC are socialized to humans at a very early age and
any physical human interaction is limited to a selected group of Wolf Care staff, enabling easier veterinary checks and excellent wolf behavior viewing opportunities from the center’s glass windows.
IWC Wolf Curator Lori Schmidt is seen above being greeted by either Shadow or Malik, the Center’s two 11-year-old Arctic Wolves who together make up the current Retired Pack. The mission of the IWC is “teaching the world about wolves” but it’s really the wolves who do the teaching; the human staff’s task is to interpret their unique world-view. It seems that in this case, the wolves are the ones doing the “whispering”.
The Lion Whisperer
(images via: Damn Fresh Pics)
Richardson, a 32-year-old animal ranger at The Lion Park in Lanseria, just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. “I don’t use sticks, whips or chains – just patience,” explains Richardson. “It may be dangerous, but this is a passion for me, not a job.”
(image via: Damn Fresh Pics)
Richardson relies not only on 10 years of experience working with animals, but also in his previous career in physiology where he worked with patients who had undergone surgery. “I am someone they relate to,” says Richardson. “I enrich their lives. If these animals are going to be kept in a captive situation, don’t they deserve to have the best care, the best entertainment, the best lives?”
The Bear Whisperer
Annoyed by the bear necessities in Mammoth Lakes, CA? Call Steve Searles, the Bear Whisperer. You’ll be glad you did and the bears even more so, as Searles’ quiet yet persistent persuasiveness allows wayward bruins to get back to nature with their hides (and lives) intact.
Is Steve Searles smarter than the average bear? Find out for yourself by watching “The Bear Whisperer” on the Animal Planet network. “I have learned over the years that the biggest, baddest and meanest bear is usually in control of the others,” explains Searles. “My success is based on assuming that role and showing our bears who is boss. ‘Bear Whisperer’ will prove that we can co-exist with most wildlife if we take the time to understand how and why they behave the way they do and respect that.”
The Horse Whisperer
Though many people first heard the term “horse whisperer” through the 1998 eponymously titled 1998 film starring Robert Redford and Scarlett Johansson, so-called “horse whisperers” date back to the early 19th century. Daniel “Horse-Whisperer” Sullivan kept his methods secret but onlookers reported he would stand face to face with his equine subjects and would appear to be whispering to them.
What Sullivan and later followers were practicing was Natural Horsemanship, a gentle way of training horses dating back at least to the era of Classical Greece. Practitioners of natural horsemanship avoid techniques involving punishment that inculcate fear in the horse being trained. Instead, subtle body language and a system of behavioral negative reinforcement are applied, with the goal being to forge a willing partnership with the horse.
One of the foremost Horse Whisperers of the modern era is Monty Roberts, author of the best-selling book The Man Who Listens to Horses. Roberts first observed wild mustangs in his early teens, noting they seemed to express themselves through a discernible type of body language. His autobiography, first published in 1996, has been translated into over a dozen languages and has sold over 5 million copies worldwide. You’ll find an interesting interview with Monty Roberts here.
(images via: The Daily Raider)
Since the concept in all its many variations (“Duck Whisperer” anyone?) exploded out of pop culture’s melting pot, one wonders if Animal Whispering has jumped the shark… sorry, Christina Zenato. Though the phrase is what pays these days, the theory of natural social interaction with animals still stands on its own, er, four legs.