A Very Grizzly Death (Updated)

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As I continue to wait for my phone to ring with the promise of gainful employment, I find myself watching more TV than normal.   But not soap operas or game shows.   I’ve been watching Discovery, Tru,  Nancy Grace and making fun of that helmet she calls a hair do.  I  also watch the All Hitler/All The Time  Channel, SyFy, The Food Network and on occasion, Animal Planet which is where I’ve re-acquainted myself with Timothy Treadwell.

This man, I would imagine, was a kind and gentle soul.  A narcissist perhaps; an attention whore maybe–certainly a little insane,  but at least he was stalwart in his convictions.   And to him, they were worth dying for. 

For Tim, it was the preservation of the Alaskan Grizzly bear.

I first heard of this self-professed naturalist, bear enthusiast and “eco-warrior” who cavorted with bears and other fauna  found in the Alaskan outback in the late 90’s and early noughts.     

He hair was thin and blond and he wore it on the longish side…let’s call it a hapless Prince Valiant cut.      Tim was effeminate, too and his squeaky little voice made one think he was far more boy than a man in his early 40’s.     Until 2003, I always thought Tim was gay.    Let’s face it–deducing this would have been fairly easy to do if being overly dramatic,  embarrassing histrionics and proverbial hissy fits are any indication.

Case in point:

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See what I mean?   Though this quintessence of grandiosity and inflated self- worth would probably be more of a Prozac moment than anything even remotely homosexual.

What you just witnessed is an excerpt taken from a documentary on Treadwell’s life entitled “Grizzly Man”.    The Colonel Klink sounding narrator is documentary director, Werner Herzog. 

The veteran filmmaker used sequences extracted from more than 85 hours of video footage shot by Treadwell during the last five years of his life, and conducted interviews with Treadwell’s family and friends, as well as bear and nature experts. Herzog also narrates, and offers his own interpretations of the events.

In his narration, he depicts Treadwell as a disturbed man who may very well had a death wish toward the end of his life, but Herzog also refuses to condemn him for this.   He pays him enough respect for the documentary to be deemed a fitting homage..

Disturbed?  

Gee, ya think???

More on that in a moment.

Treadwell was born Timothy Dexter in April 1957 in a hospital on  Long Island, New York.  The average student was one five children.   He was a high school swim team’s star diver and has been described by family members as an average kid who did ordinary things–until he went to college. There, he told people he was a British orphan who was born in Australia.    He then tried his hand at acting and swears that he became a heroin addict and almost died from an overdose  after losing the role of Woody Boyd, the dim-witted bartender on Cheers to actor,  Woody Harrelson.    So far, no one has been able to back that up, but considering Treadwell’s somewhat embellished past, it probably never happened.

According to Treadwell’s book, “Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears In Alaska”, he knew he wanted and needed to do something with his life that was meaningful.  He’s been an animal lover all of his life, and went to Alaska to watch the Grizzlies on the recommendation of a friend.    One look at these majestic creatures and Treadwell says he knew he was hooked;  he’d found his true calling in life.  He’d fight to keep the Grizzly species alive and propagating……or die trying.

During Treadwell’s 13 late springs and summers in the Grizzly Maze, he  documented amazing videos and incredible still shots of bears, foxes and eagles…some at very close range.

Treadwell’s 13 years with the bears weren’t without incident.  From the start, the National Park Service  worried about his safety.   He also annoyed them by breaking the law.   Park Rangers cited him several times for 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.     That would include fedning off would-be poachers.   When Treadwell was in residence, poaching rarely happened.

While that was a plus, Treadwell also frustrated authorities by failing to protect himself.   He refused to construct an electric fence around his campsite; he owned no gun and refused to carry bear spray to use as a deterrent in case of an attack.

Still, he felt as if he had this unspoken trust with these wild animals.  He claimed they knew him and trusted him and vice versa.    This had experts, veterinarians, zoo keepers and celebrities like David Letterman shaking their collective heads in disbelief.

These were bears, after all.

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But sadly, that’s exactly what the headlines read on the morning of  October 5, 2003.

He’d gone back to Katmai for season 13 and accompanied this time by his  girlfriend, Amie Hugenard, who was something of a seasoned outdoorswoman herself.    They arrived that year to find a few new bears roaming the Maze where there was very little food, thanks to drought earlier in the summer. 

The couple was supposed to leave the park at the usual time of year, but there was a problem with airline tickets, so they decided to stay one day longer.  A prop plane would pick them up the next day.  That was fine with Treadwell.  It gave him an additional 24 hours to shoot more video and say goodbye to his furry friends one last time.

The very last footage Treadwell shot shows a bear behind him.  The thousand pound giant had been diving into the river repeatedly looking for salmon. Treadwell mentioned in the video that he didn’t know this bear and he didn’t feel comfortable around it.

Around noon on Sunday, October 5, 2003, Treadwell spoke with a friend  associate in Malibu by satellite phone.   Everything seemed fine.
 
 The next day, October 6,  Willy Fulton, the Kodiak Air Taxi pilot  buzzed the campsite a few times and when he got down low enough, he saw a bear sitting on a human torso.    He landed elsewhere and called for help.  When Park Rangers and Alaskan State Troopes arrived, they recovered  Treadwell’s head,  partial backbone, his right forearm/hand still wearing his wrist watch  and parts of a few vital organs scattered around the campsite.    Hugenard’s partial remains were found neaby buried in a mound of twigs and dirt. A large male grizzly protecting the campsite was shot and killed by park rangers while attempting to retrieve the bodies. A younger bear was also killed after it charged authorities.
 
An necropsy revealed human body parts such as fingers and limbs in both bears’ stomachs.  Oddly enough, in Katmai National Park’s 85 year history,  this was the first incident of a person being killed by a bear.

While searching the campsite, investigators found Treadwell’s video camera.    Apparently, there were no images found on the tape, but there was audio and somehow during the attack, the camera had been turned on.   It recorded six minutes of the attack, then stopped after running out of tape.  It’s never been released to the public nor will it be, but those who have heard it have called it the most “agonizingly gruesome” thing they’ve ever heard.

“Get out here!!   I’m being killed”.

According to an article in the Anchorage Daily News, those were Treadwell’s last words.   

Greg Wilkinson heard the tape.  He’s a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers.  He says it’s full of screams and rustling sounds,  but offers little explanation in terms of  what exactly what happened or why.  Scratching and dragging noises on it have led troopers to believe Treadwell might have been wearing a body mike when the attack began.

After Treadwell calls for help, Wilkinson said, Huguenard can be heard shouting “play dead’, which is the recommended response to being grabbed by a brown or grizzly bear.   On the tape, shortly after the warning to “play dead,” Wilkinson said, “Huguenard is heard to scream “fight back.” Treadwell later yells “hit him with a pan,” Wilkinson said.

Shortly after that,  the tape goes dead.   Troopers believe the bear came in the night. The tent in which Treadwell and Huguenard had been camping showed no signs of being ripped open by a bear trying to attack people inside, but a friend of Treadwell’s said it was common for him to leave the tent in the dark to confront bears that approached his camp.  He was usually able to fend them off by shouting.   This time, it didn’t work. 

Treadwell was quoted once as saying that if his life ended as the result of being eaten by a bear, it would deem it to be an honor.

Honorable and noble sentiment uttered by a true bear lover, but in Timothy’s last horrific moments before dying, I doubt very seriously if he still felt that way.

The reality is this:  hungry bears only know that they’re hungry; especially if they’re trying to survive in drought conditions before hibernating.   They don’t care if their prey has two legs, four legs, is a juicy berry or has fins and swims upstream to spawn.    Hell, bears practically invented the food chain.  A food source is a food source.   It’s the law of the wild.    Treadway it seems, wanted to believe he was impervious to this; that he was so special that he was above being anything other than a savior to all Alaskan bears.   Ideally maybe, but in truth, he was just lunch.   Sadly, tragically, that’s all and it cost a young woman her life as well.  

It’s been said that Treadwell was one sick puppy.  According to Wikipedia, psychiatrists and other health care professionals watching the documentary say he showed signs of being bi-polar…certainly manic and was obviously untreated as such.  Well, of course he was!  I don’t doubt that for a minute.    Even a lay person could probably see there were things running amuck in his head.   There’s no way anyone willing to go off the grid like that and live defenselessly in a tent in the wild with huge bears as neighbors COULD be mentally or emotionally healthy. 

That may be, but I’ve always liked Treadwell’s tenacity and I found his psychotic audacity extremely entertaining.   And Treadwell was an entertainer–make no mistake about that.  And while he did have a certain Ellie May Clampett  “sure love them critters, Pa” kind of symbiosis with the bears and foxes he ‘befriended’, he was completely self-taught and did that by breaking just about every rule of animal husbandry–domesticated or feral.    That he lived to tell the world about those 13 seasons with Grizzly bears was the result of sheer luck.   Dumb luck, really.   Trust had nothing to do with it.  Animals in the wild don’t “trust”, especially humans.   We’re regarded as interlopers  on their turf.     We are a threat and a potential food source wrapped in synthetic and natural fibers along with tasty, tasty dermis.

I’ve watched Grizzly Man several times.   It’s an amazing documentary in more ways than one.  It was an amazing feat that Treadway survived as long as he did while camping among the some of the largest, most ferocious land mammals on the planet.   He tempted fate every time he pitched his plastic blue tarp tent near the salmon run.   But in spite of it all, he obviously loved what he was doing–ignorance (even for those well seasoned) is bliss I suppose–so I guess it’s safe to say that when you get right down to it, Treadwell’s  heart was in the right place.

But on October 5, 2003, it was most definitely in the wrong place.

RIP Timmy.

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You can see excerpts of the stunning footage shot by Treadwell on the truly fascinating series, Grizzly Man’s Diary on the Animal Planet  on certain weekdays, early in the morning and late in the afternoon.    Check your local listings.

You can order your copy of the documentary Grizzly Man through Amazon or wherever videos and DVD’s are sold.

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One comment

  1. Wow. This looks like a very interesting NetFlix download. Thanks!

    >Still, he felt as if he had this unspoken trust with these wild animals. He claimed they knew him and trusted him and vice versa.

    I have repeated this lesson with my daughters many, many times: Animals are not people. We don’t speak the same language, and as much as we’d like to think otherwise, we are not spiritually connected, except in the broadest sense as living things on the same planet.

    We’ve only managed to domesticate 14 of Earth’s millions of animal species, according to the fascinating history book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. And many of those — cattle, dogs, horses, pigs — will still cripple or kill us, given motivation and opportunity.

    As I understand it, Native Americans revered bears, but didn’t try to go play with them, or hang out in their territories, or share streams with them. We shouldn’t, either.

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