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Living With Grizzlies: An Analysis of Timothy Treadwell

Updated on March 30, 2014

Grizzly Man

Timothy Treadwell is best known by the title "Grizzly Man" labeled by a movie about his life among the grizzlies for thirteen years. The movie, released after Timothy's death, was produced from a series of videos made by Timothy himself while out in the Katmai National Park in Alaska living among grizzly bears. These tapes and videos spanned over many seasons. Timothy's time there in Alaska was the cause of much debate, confusion and heated discussion. It also drew a number of violations from the Alaskan park authorities. This hub will focus on Timothy's desire to give up life as an average young man and dedicate his entire existence to the study of the grizzly bear and the debates that resulted after his death.

Who was Treadwell?

Timothy Treadwell was born in NY in 1957. He was, by his parents' account, an average young man, a member of the high school swim team and scored well enough to begin college after graduation. At some point upon beginning college, Treadwell begin to change. He claimed he was an orphan from Australia and he changed his name to Treadwell. (His birth name was Dexter). In his own book, Treadwell claims to have developed a herion addiction which led to his eventual move to Alaska at the suggestion of a friend.

Bound for Alaska

Timothy Treadwell took off for Alaska to clear his head. During his first summer there, he later wrote that he felt a kinship with the grizzly bears he found living among Katmai National Park. He began a serious crusade to study the grizzly bears and began to travel to the park each season.

Timothy took his work seriously. He purchased cameras, video equipment and created an organization for the study of the bears. For thirteen seasons, Timothy Treadwell traveled to Katmai National Park and lived among the bears. He traveled back and forth to the lower 48 states to do talk shows and to speak at schools to help education the public on bears about what he had learned.

Back in the park each spring and summer, Treadwell's methods of studying the grizzlies were becoming problematic. He threw caution to the wind and began to "trust" the bears as his friend. He took no steps to protect his life and he often led others into the area to see the bears. This behavior drew fire from the park authorities as well as other conservationists.

Alaska's Bears

Grizzly bears are abundant throughout much of Alaska. In fact, there are as many of 30,000 living in Alaska while only 1500 live in the lower 48 states. Chances are, if you want to see a grizzly bear, Alaska is the best place to see one. Grizzlies are larger than black bears and they can be fiercely territorial. They generally eat meat and fish which makes the Alaskan wilderness great for the grizzly bear. In Alaska they can find salmon in the rivers, and deer, elk and small animals in the woods or meadows to feed upon. Where a black bear will back off at loud noises, a grizzly may continue forward.

In spite of the dangers, Timothy Treadwell eagerly entered the Alaskan wilderness year after year to videotape and photograph these magnificent animals. He received warnings from the park service officials and a number of violations. At some point, he began to camp in dense thickets where he could not be spotted from officials.

The park service were not the only ones concerned. Other conservationists openly expressed their concerns over his behavior. They suggested he put up bear fencing or use bear spray. Rather than comply, Treadwell took personal issue over these suggestions.

Treadwell's Death

Throughout the years, Treadwell's methods became more and more erratic. He spoke into the camera on his videos about how dangerous his work was but he took absolutely NO steps to protect himself. He began to lead others into the field and act as a guide from time to time to see the grizzlies, putting them in danger. He got too close to the bears and even closer to the cubs. To those with experience around wildlife, such as wildlife photographers, these behaviors appeared dangerous and careless. He appeared to be a man bent on destruction. Comments were often made that it was a matter of time before one of the bears killed him.

The day before Timothy Treadwell was to leave for the season, he called back to California and spoke to a colleague. He gave no hint of any issues related to bears. The following day, his air pilot arrived and was unable to locate him in the usual pre-arranged location. After finding only a large grizzly bear in the location of Treadwell's campsite, his pilot contacted park authorities. Authorities determined immediately that both Treadwell and his girlfriend (a visitor for the past two seasons), had been the victims of one of the worst bear attacks in history and the only fatal attack in more than 20 years.

The attack truly was the stuff made of horror films. For unknown reasons, maybe just out of habit, Treadwell's video recorder had been activated prior to the attacks. Although there is no video, six minutes of Treadwell's struggle for his life is captured on audio. These recorded minutes include his girlfriend's screams as she fights the bear, trying to save Treadwell's life. They also include her hysterical screams as the bear carries him off into the forest, leaving her alone to a similar fate. The tape ends but the discovery of their remains provides the rest of the story. The bear did, in fact, come back and retrieve her. Her partially eaten remains were found near the campsite where they were being guarded by a bear when the park authorities arrived.

What are your thoughts about Treadwell's death?

Do you think Treadwell lost his sanity or was simply an overzealous animal rights advocate?

See results

Grizzly Man and the Aftermath of his Death

The story of Treadwell's death made national news for many reasons. First of all, Treadwell had become somewhat of a celebrity after appearances on Letterman and Dateline. His antics among conservatists and animals activists had become extremely well known. Treadwell's videos of himself and his interactions with the grizzlies were very unique and unorthodox. He was often seen sneaking up on the bears, attempting to get close enough to touch the cubs, referring to them as his friends and camping along the trails where they traveled most.

The videos were provided to a film maker who created the movie, "Grizzly Man". This movie did not always paint Treadwell in the best light. After his death and the ensuing movie, debates sprang up about whether Treadwell's methods actually did more harm to the welfare and protection of wild animals than helping them. Timothy often defended the bears from hunters with arguments that the bears were not aggressive by nature and were of no real threat to man. However, even he was almost attacked on numerous occasions and finally filled by one.

Treadwell argued that the bears could be trusted and he was determined to show that by the videotapes and photographs of his interactions with or near the bears. However, he failed to realize the message he was sending to the world. By telling people that bears were trusting and showing that he could co-exist with them in nature, he was indicating that others could do the same. This placed hikers, campers and other visitors to the Alaska wilderness in danger because they would inevitably not understand bears behavior. When bears defend their territory, cubs or food, people get harmed and bears will be killed. This is not what Treadwell wanted or envisioned but it is a reality of what can take place.

Another problem with Treadwell's approach is that his videos were full of ranting that often made no sense. He seemed to border on insanity at times. Although it can be argued that he was just an eccentric person, Treadwell's communications on the tapes do give pause. They do look like a man who has lost his sense of reason. When "Grizzly Man" was released, many viewers saw Treadwell only for the rule breaking, irrational things he did. His groundbreaking work with the bears was overshadowed. However, his work was outstanding and unheard of.

Treadwell's observations of the grizzlies showed the world aspects of their lives that have never been seen. He lived among them and was accepted as a non-threat by most of the bears most of the time. As a result, they went about their daily lives while Timothy Treadwell videotaped and photographed and documented. He watched them raise their cubs, hunt for food, fish for salmon, mate, play and fight for survival. He captured this on tapes so that man can understand grizzlies.

Timothy Treadwell loved grizzly bears. He felt a closeness with them and a freedom when he was out in nature among the animals. It started as a therapeutic journey for him but turned into a love, a passion and a calling. Somewhere along the trip, Treadwell's vision seems to have become blurred with reality.

Wild animals are wild and they are meant to stay that way. We need to respect the boundaries and take precautions so that we do not get injured. This is the only way to really protect them as well as ourselves.


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    • vmartinezwilson profile image

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      This man was funny, insane and intriguing all at the same time. I wrote a hub on the movie Grizzly Man, but I don't go into much detail about the man himself.

      Have you done any research on Amie Hughgenhard, Treadwell's girlfriend? It seemed that Herzog was interested in her story, but since her family had no interest in him, only featured her briefly in the film.

      Thanks for the analysis, it is interesting and your insight is useful. Voted up.


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