Timothy Treadwell aka The Grizzly Man had good intentions for grizzly bears. What can we learn from his story?
Timothy Treadwell was a grizzly bear enthusiast and an amateur environmentalist. He was also a documentary and filmmaker and the founder of Grizzly People, a bear protection organization.
Timothy worked as a waiter during winter, then went camping in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve in summer, where he lived among the bears for 13 summers.
He ostensibly wanted to study these wild animals and protect them. Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were unfortunately mauled and killed by one of the bears in their campsite.
Timothy Treadwell: His Life And Love For Bears
Born in 1957 in New York, Timothy Treadwell was the third of five children. He was already very fond of animals at a young age and and kept a squirrel named Willie as a pet.
After graduating from high school, he left for Southern California where he ended up in Long Beach.
During his early life, Treadwell became an alcoholic and a drug addict to a point where he almost died from a drug overdose. This experience changed his life completely and he decided to get away from people.
The wild and remote parts of Alaska offered him the break he needed.
Journey To Alaska
No doubt, being such an avid lover of animals, his journey to Alaska involved bear watching after a friend convinced him to do so.
He was so happy with the experience after his first encounter with a wild bear, that he believed he had found his calling in life. In effect, his destiny and that of the bears were entwined.
He became addicted to bears!
Subsequently, Timothy Treadwell studied grizzly bears during the summer seasons yearly for 13 years. According to his book, Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska, his mission in life was to protect bears. And this mission began in the late 1980s after he survived a near fatal heroin overdose.
He also states in the book that his drug addiction grew from alcoholism.
From then on, Timothy Treadwell spent 13 summers in the company of grizzly bears in Alaska. He loved these wild animals and although they were dangerous, he was not afraid of them. In fact, he gave them nice pet names such as Mr. Chocolate, claiming that they had accepted him as one of them.
Treadwell became the focus of attention from the media and in environmental circles. He also made frequent public appearances as an environmental activist.
His Tragic Death
Treadwell believed that he shared a unique bond with these wild animals and he was there to protect them.
But animal and nature lovers know that wildlife can be unpredictable. Unfortunately, that unpredictable nature led to a chain of events that resulted in Timothy’s death along with his girlfriend, 37-year old Amie Huguenard.
Although there were no human witnesses to what really transpired on October 5, 2003 (the day he was killed), an audio recording retrieved from a video camera that was left running gave some clue as to what transpired.
It was Willy Fulton, a Kodiak air taxi pilot who arrived at Treadwell and Huguenard’s campsite to pick them up the next day that alerted local park rangers when he found the area abandoned, except for a large male grizzly bear.
A quick search of the area revealed the couple’s mangled remains. Treadwell’s body was badly disfigured and partially eaten. Huguenard’s remains were in the same condition and found partially buried in a mound of twigs and dirt.
A large male grizzly (tagged Bear 141) found at the campsite was the immediate suspect. Park rangers killed it and its stomach contents revealed human remains and clothing as suspected.
Timothy Treadwell’s death and that of Amie were the only recorded bear-related human fatalities at Katmai National Park.
What Lessons Can Animal Lovers Learn From The Story Of Timothy Treadwell?
Although it was obvious to all that Timothy really loved those bears, bear experts criticized his methods and his behavior was described as “sentimentalizing” the animals. Remember that these are extremely large and powerful predators with very sharp claws and teeth.
Some areas Timothy Treadwell could have taken precaution are as follows:
- He completely refused to take any safety precautions. According to experts, he ought to have carried at least something like pepper spray.
- Some say Treadwell caused his own death by provoking the bears that rarely attack humans. They claimed that he caused them stress by getting too close and harassing them through touching them and even singing songs. This was an invasion of their territory.
- Others called him a dangerous and misguided fanatic who had a fatal obsession with Alaskan Grizzly bears.
- Charlie Russell (a bear expert) worked with Treadwell at some point and he later wrote a lengthy critique of Treadwell’s lack of basic safety precautions, such as refusing to keep pepper spray or erecting electric fences.
- Timothy Treadwell set up camp near a salmon stream where the bears commonly came hunting for fish. But at that time of the year, bears were struggling to find food to gain fat before winter hibernation. In fact, the bears that knew him well were already in hibernation. So he was now surrounded by hungry, aggressive, and strange bears. Definitely a recipe for disaster.
Several Problems With Park Authorities
In addition to the above, almost from the start Treadwell had several issues with the National Park Service authorities. They expressed their worries several times about his behavior. He repeatedly flouted their safety rules and guidelines.
On several occasions, officials caught Treadwell storing food improperly. This was of course a major attraction to bears.
Many years later, Timothy Treadwell aka the Grizzly man is still a controversial figure in environmental circles. While his was indeed a good cause, he used highly questionable and unorthodox tactics to handle the bears.
In 2005, Werner Herzog put together a documentary about these events called The Grizzly Man.
This story teaches us how the actions of a few individuals can affect overall national park policy and hinder wildlife conservation efforts.