Another Piece In . . .Sad Puzzle

Voice of the Times / Anchorage Daily News / January 10, 2004

THE NEWS that Timothy Treadwell invented much of his background is somehow no surprise.

Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten last October by brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve. Before his death, Treadwell gained an international reputation as the author and filmmaker who got up close and personal with Katmai's ferocious bears.

In the process, he convinced entertainment luminaries and millions of ordinary people that the bears are just misunderstood creatures that respond to his affection. Treadwell liked to ease up close to the animals and chant, "I love you," in a high-pitched, sing-song voice. He gave them names including Booble, Aunt Melissa, Mr. Chocolate, Freckles, Molly and Downy.

He told stories about his adventures with the near-huggable wild creatures in appearances on David Letterman's show and The Rosie O'Donnell Show. The Discovery Channel and Dateline NBC did pieces on him and he appeared in a Disney Channel segment about bears.

Now it turns out that Treadwell was not born in Australia as he claimed but in Long Island, N.Y.; he didn't grow up a British orphan on the streets of London as he told many people, and his accent was affected.

His organization, Grizzly People, was not a nonprofit as he claimed but it served to get him donations from Hollywood glitterati like actor Leonardo DiCaprio and supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

Treadwell had been warned that his exploits among Katmai's brown bears were dangerous. Bear experts and park officials worried that Treadwell's exploits would encourage others to emulate him and take risks that would endanger themselves and the bears. They also noted that the bears he claimed to be saving didn't need his protection. Brown bear numbers are large, their habitat and food supply are fully adequate and hunting pressure is low; and despite his claims to the contrary, poaching is rare.

Treadwell did much good before he died at age 46; he often visited schools in Southern California and talked to the children. He entertained millions in his media appearances, even if the information he spread was misleading.

And Stephen Stringham, a bear biologist and professor at the University of Alaska, said Treadwell kept meticulous diaries of bear genealogy, mating habits and maternal behavior. Stringham told an Associated Press reporter that the work will be valuable to researchers.
But Treadwell did Alaska and its wildlife a major disservice by spreading the notion that the state is a Disneyesque theme park. This is the same approach taken by animal protection people and many environmentalists who lobby to shut down its industries and lock up its lands. The latest information about Timothy Treadwell is another piece in a sad puzzle.

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