April 29, 1957
Long Island, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 5, 2003
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, U.S.
Cause of death
|Fatal bear attack|
Timothy Treadwell (born Timothy Dexter; April 29, 1957 – October 5, 2003) was an American bear enthusiast, environmentalist, amateur naturalist, eco-warrior, and documentary filmmaker. He lived with the grizzly bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska for 13 summers. At the end of his 13th summer in the park in 2003, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard (October 23, 1965 – October 5, 2003) were killed and partially eaten by a grizzly bear. Treadwell's life, work, and death were the subject of Werner Herzog's critically acclaimed 2005 documentary film Grizzly Man.
Treadwell was born in Long Island, New York, one of five children of Val and Carol Dexter. He attended Connetquot High School, where he achieved B average grades and was the swimming team's star diver. He was also very fond of animals, and kept a squirrel named Willie as a pet. In an interview with his parents in the film Grizzly Man, they say he was an ordinary young man until he went away to college. There, he claimed that he was a British orphan who was born in Australia. According to his account, he became an alcoholic after he lost the role of Woody Boyd to Woody Harrelson in the sitcom Cheers.
Interest in bears
Treadwell lived among grizzly bears during summer seasons for 13 years. According to his 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. He wrote that after his first encounter with a wild bear, he knew he had found his calling in life. He attributed his recovery from drug and alcohol addictions entirely to his relationship with bears.
Timothy spent the early part of each season camping on the "Big Green," an open area of bear grass in Hallo Bay on the Katmai Coast. He called the area "The Grizzly Sanctuary". Treadwell was known for getting extremely close to the bears he observed, sometimes even touching them and playing with bear cubs. However in his book, he claimed that he was always careful with the bears and actually developed a sense of mutual trust and respect with the animals. He habitually named the bears he encountered and consistently saw many of the same bears with each returning summer, thus claiming to build a standing relationship with them. National Park Service Rangers said he was harassing wildlife.
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 almost 100 hours of video footage (some of which was later used to create the documentary Grizzly Man) and produced 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 during parts of the last three summers and at the time of his death (the documentary says 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.
Charlie Russell, who studied bears and raised them and lived with them in Kamchatka, Russia for a decade, and who worked with Treadwell, wrote a lengthy response in which he criticized Treadwell's lack of basic safety precautions such as pepper spray and electric fences. He also commented on what he considered the standard reaction of Alaskans to hearing of Treadwell's death, writing, "If Timothy had spent those thirteen years killing bears and guiding others to do the same, eventually being killed by one, he would have been remembered in Alaska with great admiration." Russell was also critical of the film Grizzly Man, saying it was inaccurate and if Palovak "really was a protector of bears, she should have looked for a film maker who would have been sympathetic towards them."
According to the organization Treadwell founded, Grizzly People, five bears were poached in the year following his death, while none had been poached while he was present in Katmai. However, according to court records as reported by the Anchorage Daily News the guilty parties were charged with poaching wildlife along Funnel Creek in the Preserve, an area open to hunting that borders the National Park. According to several sources including Nick Jans' book, The Grizzly Maze, Treadwell only camped near the Katmai Coast, mainly in areas around Hallo Bay and Kaflia Bay, and never in or near the Preserve. The only effective way to patrol all 6,000 square miles (16,000 km2) of Katmai National Park is by airplane which is the method used by authorities.
Conflicts with the National Park Service
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 (born October 23, 1965), visited Katmai National Park. In the film Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog states that according to Treadwell's diaries, Huguenard 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 autumn. 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, causing the grizzly bears to be even more aggressive than usual.
Treadwell was to leave the park at his usual time of year, but extended his stay a 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. Some of the last footage taken by Treadwell hours before his death includes video of a bear 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 particular bear. In Grizzly Man, Herzog posits that Treadwell may have filmed the very bear that killed him.
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. In the documentary Grizzly Man, filmmaker Herzog claims that the lens cap of the camera was left on, suggesting that Treadwell and Huguenard were in the process of setting up for another video sequence when the attack happened. 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 and his agonized screams, 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, Herzog listens to the recording on headphones (leaving it unheard on the film's soundtrack) and then urges Palovak to destroy it. In the follow-up 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. Herzog has stated that Palovak later "separated herself from the tape" by putting it in a bank vault.
- In 2004, news websites reported that Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way, had teamed with Columbia Pictures to develop a film titled The Man Who Loved Grizzlies, covering the life and death story of Treadwell. The film was to be scripted by Ned Zeman, based on his Vanity Fair article, and DiCaprio was expected to play the role of Treadwell.
- In 2005, director Werner Herzog made Grizzly Man, a documentary about Treadwell's work with wildlife in Alaska. Released theatrically by Lions Gate Films, it later was telecast on the Discovery Channel. Treadwell's own footage is featured, along with interviews with people who knew him. Although Herzog praises Treadwell's video footage and photographs, he states his belief that Treadwell himself was a disturbed individual with a death wish. Treadwell's anthropomorphic treatment of wild animals was apparent in the documentary.
- The Grizzly Man Diaries is an eight-episode mini-series that premiered on August 22, 2008, on Animal Planet and is a spin-off of Grizzly Man. Produced by Creative Differences, the series chronicles the last ten years of Treadwell's life with diary entries, footage and photographs taken by Treadwell during his expeditions.
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- Grizzly People
- Russell, Charlie (February 21, 2006). Letters from Charlie. cloudline.org.
- Jans, Nick. The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears, New York, N.Y.: Penguin Group, 2005. ISBN 0-525-94886-4.
- Treadwell, Timothy. Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears In Alaska. Harper Collins Publishing, New York, New York, 1997
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- Treadwell, Timothy and Palovak, Jewel. Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska. HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN 0-06-017393-9
- Grizzly People, founded by Treadwell to preserve bears and their habitat
- Timothy Treadwell at the Internet Movie Database
- Timothy Treadwell's Biography
- Timothy Treadwell's Journals
- Timothy Treadwell's Wildlife Photography
- "Wildlife author killed, eaten by bears he loved" at Anchorage Daily News, October 8, 2003
- "Treadwell: 'Get out here. I'm getting killed'" at Anchorage Daily News, October 9, 2003
- "Biologist believes errors led to attack" at Anchorage Daily News, October 10, 2003
- The Myth of Timothy Treadwell at Coastal Bears of Katmai National Park: First-hand account of encounters with Timothy Treadwell in Katmai, by John Rogers
- Timothy Treadwell at Find a Grave