To fellow bear lovers:
We were all saddened by the deaths of Tim Treadwell and Amie Huguenard. Just
as sad were the deaths of two grizzlies -- and the resulting criticism of government
personnel who shot the bears while risking their own lives to try rescuing our
friends and ultimately to recover their bodies. In fact, we owe deep thanks to
our National Park Service, Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of
Fish and Game.
Had either Tim or Amie been alive when help arrived, survival would have depended
on quick rescue. There was no time to shoo bears away, and they wouldn't leave
voluntarily. Grizzlies defending carcasses can be incredibly tenacious and aggressive.
Tim and I were once chilled to watch another boar guarding the carcass of a tiny
cub. That bear savored every bite, making no more than 30 pounds of meat last
over 48 hours, while driving off several rivals that arrived to share in the
The Kaflia Bay bears were doing the same with the bodies of Tim and Amie. Shooting
them was the only feasible way for the rescuers to protect themselves and to
eliminate a bear that might later kill someone else.
Would Tim really have disagreed with shooting those bears? Not if that was essential
for his survival or Amie's. Sure, Tim -- like many of us -- had often asked that
no bear be killed for mauling him in self-defense. But willingness to spare bears
that react defensively doesn't carry over to sparing the rare bear that is predatory
or sadistic toward people. Just as there are psychotic humans, there are a very
few "psychotic" bears. We don't know whether the bear that killed Tim and Amie
would have killed someone else. But why take the chance?
Next summer, when I return to Kaflia Bay, I'll spend every second thanking God
and the Park Service, the troopers and Fish and Game that the killer is apparently
dead. I'll be thankful for my own safety, that of other people, and that of the
remaining bears at Kaflia whose lives this may have saved. Because the killer
is apparently dead, people will feel safer and thus less trigger-happy toward
other bears. And, because there is a slight chance the real killer survives,
people may be a bit more cautious and respectful.
Bears are as diverse as we are. Some bears we can love, or at least like. Some
like us in return -- as Tim was so fond of relating. But a very few bears are
as lovable and voracious as crocodiles. Viewing bears as living teddies just
demeans them. Love bears as bears, not as storybook creatures. Love them, and
respect them -- as Tim did.
If you really want to honor our friend, learn from both his wisdom and his mistakes.
The following verse, from my book "Beauty Within the Beast: Kinship With Bears
in the Alaska Wilderness," was read at Tim and Amie's memorial service:
In part because bears can be so dangerous, they force you to pay attention.
The awe of being in their presence
strips away the chaos of thoughts and distractions that normally dominate your
focus your attention on the moment.
They flood your blood with adrenaline and endorphins.
They introduce you to terror, awe, amazement and ecstasy.
They connect you to the deepest pulses of life.
This is their gift.
The power to take your life, or to renew it; to re-create
who you are, if only for a moment, and perhaps for
Stephen Stringham has studied bear behavior for decades. He teaches bears and
bear safety currently at Kenai Peninsula College and in April at Mat-Su College
(you can still sign up). His second book, "Alaska's Most Dangerous Game: Living
With Bears, Moose and Other Hazardous Wildlife," will be available this summer.