Timothy Treadwell lived among grizzly bears during summer seasons for 13 years. According to Treadwell's book, Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska, his mission to protect bears began after he survived a near-fatal heroin overdose in the late 1980s. He confesses in his book that his drug addiction grew from his alcoholism and after that experience, he knew he needed to do something with his life that was meaningful. A lover of all animals since he was a child, he traveled to Alaska to watch bears at the urging of a close friend. Treadwell writes that after his first encounter with a wild bear, he knew he had found his calling in life. Treadwell attributed his recovery from drug and alcohol addictions entirely to his relationship with bears.
|Tim and Amie--Last Expedition |
© Willy Fulton 2003
During the later part of the season he would move to Kaflia Bay and camp in an area of especially thick brush he called the "Grizzly Maze". Here the chances of crossing paths with grizzlies were much higher, since the location intersected bear trails. Treadwell recorded over 100 hours of video footage (some of which was later used to create the documentary Grizzly Man) and a large collection of still photographs.
Treadwell claimed to be alone with the wildlife on several occasions in his videos. However his girlfriend Amie was with him at the time of his death and the documentary on him indicated she was there for his final two summers.
By 2001, Treadwell became notable enough to receive extensive media attention both on television and in environmental circles. He made frequent public appearances as an environmental activist. He traveled throughout the United States to educate school children about bears and appeared on the Discovery Channel, the Late Show with David Letterman, and Dateline NBC to discuss his experiences. He was also a co-author, with Jewel Palovak, of the book Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska, in which he described his adventures on the Alaska Peninsula.
Treadwell and Palovak founded Grizzly People, a grassroots organization devoted to protecting bears and preserving their wilderness habitat.
Treadwell's years with the grizzlies were not without disruption. Almost from the start, the National Park Service expressed their worries about his behavior. According to the file kept on Treadwell by the Park Service, rangers reported he had at least six violations from 1994 to 2003. Included among these violations are: guiding tourists without a license, camping in the same area longer than the Parks Service's seven-day limit, improper food storage, wildlife harassment, and conflicts with visitors and their guides. He also frustrated authorities by refusing to install an electric fence around his camp and refusing to carry bear spray to use as a deterrent. In fact, Treadwell had carried pepper spray with him and had resorted to using it at least one time, but wrote that he had felt terrible grief over the pain he perceived he had caused the bear and refused to use it on subsequent occasions.
In 1998, park rangers issued Treadwell a citation for storing an ice chest filled with food in his tent. A separate incident involved rangers ordering him to remove a prohibited portable generator. When the Park Service imposed a new rule—often referred to as the "Treadwell Rule"—requiring all campers to move their camps at least one mile (1.6 km) every seven days, Treadwell initially obeyed the order by using a small motor boat to move his camp up and down the coast. Finding this method impractical, he later hid his camp from the Park Service in stands of trees with heavy brush. He was cited at least once for this violation.
In October 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend, physician assistant Amie Huguenard, visited Katmai National Park. In the film Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog states that Amie feared bears and felt deeply uncomfortable in their presence. Her final journal entries indicated that she wanted to be away from Katmai. Treadwell chose to set his campsite near a salmon stream where grizzlies commonly feed in the fall. Treadwell was in the park later in the year than usual, at a time when bears struggle to gain as much fat as possible before winter, and limited food supplies cause them to be more aggressive than in other months. Food was scarce that fall, so the grizzly bears were even more aggressive than usual.
Treadwell was to leave the park at his usual time of year, but extended his stay 1 week in an effort to locate a favorite female brown bear not seen earlier. He said he hated modern civilization and felt better in nature with the bears than he did in big cities around humans. He repeatedly said he hated humans too. The bears he had been used to during the summer had already gone into hibernation, and bears that Treadwell did not know from other parts of the park were moving into the area. The very last footage that shows Treadwell alive also shows a bear behind him; the bear had been diving into the river repeatedly for a piece of dead salmon. Treadwell mentioned in the footage that he did not feel entirely comfortable around that bear.
Around noon on Sunday, October 5, 2003, Treadwell spoke with an associate in Malibu, California by satellite phone. Treadwell mentioned no problems with any bears. The next day, October 6, Willy Fulton, the Kodiak air taxi pilot, arrived at their campsite to pick them up but found the area abandoned except for a bear and contacted the local park rangers. The mangled remains of Treadwell and Huguenard were discovered quickly upon investigation. Treadwell's disfigured head, partial spine, and right forearm and hand, with his wrist watch still on, were recovered a short distance from the camp. Huguenard's partial remains were found next to the torn and collapsed tents, partially buried in a mound of twigs and dirt. A large male grizzly (tagged Bear 141) protecting the campsite was killed by park rangers during their attempt to retrieve the bodies. A second adolescent bear was also killed a short time later when it charged the park rangers. An on-site necropsy of Bear 141 revealed human body parts such as fingers and limbs. The younger bear was consumed by other animals before it could be necropsied.
In the 85-year history of Katmai National Park, this was the first known incident of a person being killed by a bear.
A video camera was recovered at the site which proved to have been operating during the attack. However, according to Alaska State Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson, no images were found on the tape. This fact led troopers to believe the attack might have happened while the camera was stuffed in a duffel bag or during the dark of night. The camera had been turned on just before the attack, presumably by Huguenard, but the camera recorded only six minutes of audio before running out of tape. This, however, was enough time to record the bear's initial attack on Treadwell, its retreat when Huguenard attacked it, its return to carry Treadwell off into the forest, and Huguenard's screams of horror as she is left alone. The tape is now the property of Jewel Palovak (Treadwell's ex-girlfriend).
In Grizzly Man, filmmaker Werner Herzog listens to the recording on headphones (leaving it unheard on the film's soundtrack) and then urges Palovak to destroy it. In the followup mini-series, The Grizzly Man Diaries, Palovak admits she still owns the tape but has not listened to its contents and says she hopes she never does.
Remembering Timothy Treadwell