Timothy Treadwell, aka the Grizzly Man, lived his life in the attempt to make the lives of the bears he loved important to all.
One of the most controversial figures in conservation in recent decades, it should be noted right at the top that Timothy Treadwell was not a bear hunter, but rather a "bear enthusiast" or in his own mind "bear caretaker" of brown and grizzly bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park. (Grizzlies are actually a subspecies of brown bear)
Grizzly Man is a 2005 documentary film by German filmmaker and director Werner Herzog that chronicles Treadwell's life and times in the park before the year 2003. Sadly, while filming the bears that he so loved in October of that same year, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were both mauled and killed by a single bear.
Herzog's work used actual footage taken by Treadwell in the park to in part make his documentary and filmed interviews with Treadwell's family and friends. Both park officials and the German director have agreed that the pair's stay later into the season than usual probably had a great deal to do with their ultimate demise as bears at that time of year are generally feeding heavily to deal with the long winter.
According to IMDB, "Director Werner Herzog uses sequences extracted from more than 100 hours of video footage shot by Timothy Treadwell during the last five years of his life. He also conducts and filmed interviews with Treadwell's family and friends, and bear and nature experts."
It goes on to say that "Park rangers and bear experts commented on statements and actions by Treadwell, such as his repeated claims that he was defending the bears from poachers. Park rangers noted that there had never been a recorded incident of poaching at this national park."
This is very telling since these are the same officials who know as much or more about the bear population in the park as anyone on earth.
Even more so is the fact that, "park rangers point out that the bears were not threatened by poachers, but Treadwell's actions put them at real risk of harm and death. By familiarizing them with human contact, he increased the likelihood that they would approach human habitation seeking food, and cause a confrontation in which humans would kill them."
This has shown to be true in areas where the bear populations have expanded to the point of causing them to disperse further and further in the search for food. It is especially so in areas where hunting privileges have been denied.
One other horrifying fact in the Timothy Treadwell case is that he was actively recording with his camera when the attack occurred and both people lost their lives. It is said that Treadwell's camera still had the lens cover on when it all happened, but according to the documentary:
"Treadwell's video camera captured an audio record of the bear attack. Herzog refrained from making this a part of the film, but he is shown listening to it, clearly disturbed."
For obvious reasons, this audio has never been released to the public.
It is said that Treadwell, originally from New York, spent some 13 summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve in the southern part of Alaska. The park, which is over four million acres of incredible wilderness, is the home to over 2,000 brown bears, including the grizzly bear.
Over time, Treadwell came to believe that the bears grew to trust him. In the documentary they allowed him to approach them and he had even reached out and touched them! Ultimately, he gained some national notoriety for his work with the bears and founded Grizzly People with his friend and fellow bear enthusiast Jewel Palovak. In the film, Herzog recommends to Palovak that Treadwell's footage from the attack be destroyed. The film also reveals Treadwell filmed the bear who killed him only days prior to the attack.
Park rangers, among others, pointed out that wild bears are seriously dangerous animals, no matter what creature they may encounter, even humans. Rangers said that Treadwell was lucky to have survived as long as he had without being attacked in some way; one park ranger even suggested that the bears were so confused by his constant and direct, overtly casual conduct, that they weren't sure how to react to him. One of the more chilling aspects of the Treadwell case is when he appeared on David Letterman a few years before the attacks and assured the host he would never be eaten by a grizzly.
While many might question Treadwell's mental health and sanity from some of the rants he filmed, it should be said that he was a staunch supporter of bear protections. Unfortunately, it also has to be said that two bears had to die as a result of his presence in the park: the first was the one that killed him and his girlfriend. While rangers were investigating the grisly attack scene, a second younger grizzly was also shot after it charged the investigators.
Many listening to the man talk about the passion had for "his" bears will think that something must have been wrong with him from the beginning. But it is a fact that all of us as outdoorsmen have these same kind of passions for the wild game animals that we know and love, it's just that through a lifetime of our own learning about them, we've come to understand that these bears were residents of a national park and afforded the protections by the sovereign state of Alaska.
Hunting and trapping are permitted in Katmai National Preserve, but not in Katmai National Park. Even then, to hunt in the preserve, you must have all required licenses and permits and follow all other state regulations and laws that preserve and protect the natural wild game resources there.
He obviously was a kind-hearted human being who only wanted to protect a wild animal that he came to know and love, but as Herzog said in the narration, "Timothy looked into the eyes of the bears and saw a friend. I saw the cold, brutal reality of nature."
Some will say that he got what was coming to him, and others still say he and his girlfriend were victims of a rogue bear. We have all seen humans being attacked by deer, geese, bison, mountain lions, and yes bears, but it is usually a product of happenstance and human error in judgement.
In Treadwell's case, his love for the bears got him too close for comfort in the Alaskan wilderness, and ultimately cost two people their lives. Living among grizzlies might make the best documentary, but as encounters at the end of the world go, he was taken down by a hungry carnivore that only knew there was food in front of it.
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