Treadwell ---- Grizzly Man
I am assuming that people reading my thoughts about Timothy
Treadwell already have some understanding of the story. It would take
explain everything and there is already a good book about the
subject called The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans.
Perhaps many people wonder why I have not commented before now
in defense of Timothy Treadwell or maybe try to distance myself
him. I initially
did not consider defending Timothy, I just wanted the whole thing
to fade into oblivion with him, but in reality this kind of
story will inevitably
become part of the grizzly mythology that so many people love.
struggled with his death and voiced my frustration privately
with some people, including
a Russian friend. She was horrified that I would speak negatively
about a dead acquaintance, insisting that Russians do not do
that. I didn’t
wholly believe her, but her admonishment was another excuse to
remain quiet. Now people insist that I comment. This is my
There were many people who saw the probability of Timothy Treadwell
dying. Many of these people hated Timothy for suggesting that bears
that deserved less violent treatment than our hunting culture allows
them. Some literally cheered when he was killed by the animal that
he loved and
so passionately tried to defend. They use his death as proof that bears
can never be trusted and that brown bear numbers and range must always
be controlled and governed by harsh dominance.
Timothy has made my life difficult, both while he was alive and after
he died. Before he was killed, he tried zealously to undermine my credibility.
Some years ago I had offended him by writing in my book Grizzly
he did not carry pepper spray nor use electric fencing around his tent
to protect himself there. I did not say this was wrong, only that I
did things differently. Of course in hindsight I was too easy on
seemed little doubt to me that camping on major bear tails in thick
bush was putting him at the mercy of a possible transient bear that
not have built any kind of trusting relationship with. He had told
me that he occasionally encountered bears that scared him so I had
the question – “why
would you not take the precautions that we both knew would work?”
He angrily told me that he was essentially a trespasser in their territory
and therefore he did not want to hurt them in any way. In answer to
this I confronted him with the possibility that his death could undo
that he and others were trying to change in people’s attitude
towards bears. Only a few months after our unpleasant exchange I found
experiencing everything I had dreaded.
I got on a plane to Alaska a few hours after I heard that Timothy and
his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were dead. I wanted to make sure that
understood as much as I could about what had happened. In the past
I had found that for political reasons, in situations such as this,
story was often not reviled. As it turned out, however, there was not
much to guess about. As Timothy was scrambling out of his tent to
a bear close to his tent, his camera had accidentally been turned on,
leaving an exact and very gruesome audio record of their deaths.
Before it happened
both of them had talked and wrote about a bear who had given them every
indication that he might be dangerous. As it had turned out either
an electric fence and/or pepper spray would have saved them.
Most Alaskans never knew Timothy until his fateful story was splashed
onto the front pages all the newspapers. Their response was not sympathetic.
For eons the only acceptable way to think about bears has been in terms
of them being totally unpredictable and ferocious and that hunting
was absolutely necessary to keep them fearful of people. An animal,
running away in fear, has become synonymous with our idea of wild.
managed bears for what they can contribute to the economy, as trophies.
We do not eat them anymore.
During the last 20 years bear viewing has become increasingly popular
until it has become a bigger part of the Alaskan economy than hunting
understandably feel threatened about this trend because many photographs
show bears and people mingling together peacefully. This has made killing
grizzly bears for sport look more like murder than an act of bravery.
Hunters desperately needed Timothy’s blunder to put the danger
back into bear encounters.
Before our falling out, after getting back from our respective seasonal
adventures, I spent a couple of hours on the phone comparing notes
with Timothy. In many ways he was so strange that I could not relate
He would send me edited copies of some of his tapes, with explicit
instructions not to let anyone else see them. These video windows
into his work were
very interesting and I was often amazed, but he aggravated me when
he talked to his camera, telling his future audience over and over
what he did
was very dangerous. That was when I would ask him, “If it was
so dangerous why did he not increase his odds by putting an electric
around his tent and carry pepper spray?”
I am sure that Timothy did not intend to die the way he did. In talking
this way he was obviously setting it up so that when he eventually
put together his own movie about himself, he would look heroic for
The Difference Between Timothy and Me
My goals were different from Timothy’s. I am an 64 year old ex
rancher who while ranching in grizzly country for 18 years was interested
question of weather grizzlies were really as much of an enemy to that
industry as all the ballyhoo about them suggested. (Many years
before [in 1961- 62],
I was a camera man with my brother and father, doing the first documentary
ever done about these animals in their wild habitat in Canada and Alaska).
I encouraged grizzlies to be on my ranch. Because my place borders
Waterton Lakes National Park I had plenty of them to observe. In 1972
my own interceptive feeding program. My idea was that when the bears
came out of their den, giving them a few cows that had died during
would take the edge off their appetite, keeping them away from my and
my neighbors cows that were calving at that time of the year, further
from the mountains. Now, each spring, 34 years later, Alberta Fish
and Wildlife and Parks Canada have taken my program over and bears
fed on both sides of the park boundary for about a month every spring.
During those ranching years it became increasingly apparent that you
got back what you put into the relationship. If you made an effort
to get along
with them, they rewarded you by not causing problems for you. I never
lost any cows to bears. My neighbors occasionally would, but it didn’t
happen to me.
The most valuabe thing that I learned back then was that everything
that decreases the fear and tensions between land managers and brown
which let them live on productive land, was a huge help for grizzlies.
In other words, I thought that perhaps one of the best ways to create
habitat for them was by understanding them better.
Man can kill bears literally, until the cows come home, but there is
absolutely zero tolerance for bears killing us. I eventually except
that but then
wanted to understand what people could do to stay out of trouble.
I got very interested in all the possibilities for the grizzly if we
could change our approach and try to get along with these animals.
That is why
I went to Russia for the last 11 years. There I put myself among as
many bears as possible; having encounters with them virtually every
time I went
out the door of my cabin. Soon I understood that disharmony between
bears and humans was not the bears fault. It was a human inadequacy
by our fear and distrust of them.
I added to my challenges by rescuing ten brown bear cubs over the
years from a zoo in Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, bringing them to
my cabin so
they could live wild and free. This allowed me to understand other
are they unpredictable and are bears that did not fear people inherently
dangerous? Neither of these things turned out to be true. They were
trustworthy, but man was not.
Of course certain individual bears can become dangerous, most of these
are males that are hunted or adverse conditioned and very, very rarely
perhaps an individual that has no history with humans can be dangerous
too, even if they are not abused. Females who feel their cubs could
be hurt are very dangerous, but ones that do not feel threatened,
go as far as describing some of them as being compassionate.
I found that virtually all dangerous situations can be avoided by a
few precautions. I have always understood that for the bears sake
it was very
important that I did not add to their problems by making a mistake
myself that caused me to be hurt or killed. Three things that I found
1. It has never
happened yet, but if I ever I find myself facing an angry bear, I will
have pepper spray in hand. (Twice, with the use
of it, I have
saved one of my cubs from being killed by a male bear. These males
were not angry, just hungry).
2. I always used
electric fence to keep bears
from messing with things that I did not want damaged. 3. I give
a wide birth to any bear that show signs of not wanting me around.
To date, several books, documentaries and a feature movie called Grizzly
Man have been done about Timothy’s life and its spectacular ending.
Werner Herzog has a long, established reputation for making movies about
bizarre people. He fell upon a bonanza when he met with Jewel Palovak,
Timothy’s ex girlfriend. She is President of Grizzly People, a non-prophet
organization dedicated to protecting bears, studying them, and educating
people and she was the beneficiary of all of Timothy’s recordings.
Supposedly, without researching anything about Herzog she let him have
all Timothy’s very private videotapes. They were like his personal
diary and should have been respected in that way. If I am upset about the
aftermath of Tredwells death, I can’t be too angry with Werner
Herzog. He just did what he does, but if Jewel really was a protector
she should have looked for a film maker who would have been sympathetic
towards them. There were many to choose from.
Herzog capitalized on these tapes in a big way by making it appear
in his movie like Timothy was a nut case with a death-wish. His commentary
his own, very simple ideas about nature and how man doesn’t belong
out there in wild nature with all these horrible animals.
Herzog is a skillful filmmaker so a large percentage of those who watch
the movie Grizzly Man, overlook Timothy’s amazing way with animals
even though to me this stands out very strongly. The fact that Timothy
spent an incredible 35000 hours, spanning 13 years, living with the bears
in Katmai National Park, without any previous mishap, escapes people completely.
Even with his city-kid background, I found myself mesmerized by what he
could do with animals. Most people now see him only the way Herzog skillfully
wanted his audience to see him; as an idiot who continually “crossed
nature’s line”, what ever that means. Perhaps, in his mind,
nature’s line is something behind which bears and other nasty things
reside who will inevitably kill you if you go there without a gun. He takes
everything Timothy stood for and turned it 180°, the result which
he then weaves into his own unsophisticated agenda. The same material
hands of someone with more ethical intentions and some sensitivity
to both man and bear could have made a very different movie. The ending
story was bound to be a problem for anyone trying to make him look
a hero. Timothy wrote his own epitaph.
As a final observation, Timothy didn’t fit into any pigeon hole.
He was not a biologist, or a writer, or, in most everyone’s mind,
a legitimate researcher. In our world, where science rules, what he did
seemed inane. Judging from the reaction to Herzog’s movie, the
one thing that upsets people the most about Timothy, to the point of
him, was that he talked to bears in a kind way. In Alaska this type
of behavior is unforgivably stupid. If Timothy had spent those thirteen
years killing bears and guiding others to do the same, eventually being
by one, he would have been remembered in Alaska with great admiration.
That story would have meant nothing to Herzog because there would have
been no lines crossed what-so-ever.