Bear Activist and Companion Mauled to Death in Alaska
Associated Press / May 8, 2004
(AP) Timothy Treadwell, 46, and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, 37, both of
Malibu, California were killed by bears on Oct 6 in Katmai National Park and
Preserve. Park officials immediately closed the campsite in Kaflia Bay and said
they would now
1. Who was Timothy Treadwell?
Hollywood Hype: Timothy Treadwell sometimes claimed that he was an orphan from
England, or sometimes from Australia.
THE REALITY IS: Timothy Treadwell was born Timothy Dexter to a middle class family
in New York. He and his siblings were raised in New Jersey and Treadwell was
a member of the high school swim/dive team. Both his parents are alive.
Treadwell tells in his book Among Grizzlies that he had been a drug addict and
alcoholic, but bears saved him from these vices.
2. What was Treadwell's supposed "research" and who requested it?
Hollywood Hype: Treadwell's supposed "research" was to demonstrate that he could
get close to bears with his gentle and non-threatening personality and communicate
with them. Treadwell boasted that he could understand their communication and
they could understand him. He claimed that he knew 21 bear vocalizations and
various different body languages. He wanted to see if he could be accepted by
1,000 pound wild coastal brown bears.
THE REALITY IS: The National Park Service at Katmai denied Timothy Treadwell
a permit to do research on bears. Bear biologists have stated that there was
no meaningful value to Treadwell's supposed research. Treadwell had only a high
school education, and was not qualified to conduct research on bears and bear
behavior. He has never published a professional scientific paper or presented
his information for peer review by biologists, or professional associations such
as the Wildlife Society or the Park Service. He had claimed that his book Among
Grizzlies was his published report; however, the book is full of inaccuracies,
misinformation and material that has been previously published by qualified bear
biologists over the past 40 years.
No university, wildlife or land management agency has requested that anyone adopt
the methods used by Treadwell to gain information on bears. The National Park
Service made it clear that he was not to conduct any kind of research without
appropriate protocol and a permit.
His supposed research included the following:
- Entering dense brushy areas and standing next to bears
- Approaching bears for photographs
- Deliberately, in a confrontational manner, challenging bears
- Crawling on his hands and knees up to bears while chanting "I love you", or
singing, or reading poetry
- Having sex near areas where bears had mated
- Camping in dense brush where bear trails converged
- Attempting to pet or touch bears, even cubs
These inappropriate behaviors have no benefit for the survival of wild bears.
The reality is that all wildlife and land management agencies consider these
activities to be the stressing and harassing of wildlife, and interfering with
their normal activities.
3. Where did Treadwell perform his "research", while supposedly protecting bears
from poachers, hunters and development?
Hollywood Hype: Treadwell was in secret, mysterious, remote parts of Alaska
that he called "The Forbidden Zone" and the "Grizzly Maze". He boasted that it
was just him, the bears and the poachers.
THE REALITY IS: Treadwell was actually in Katmai National Park, established
85 years ago. Katmai is a world-renowned bear viewing area, where thousands of
tourists, fishermen, biologists and photographers have traveled for decades.
They arrive by floatplane or boats to camp, view and photograph the spectacular
scenery and the bears. The area is closed to hunting and protected by Park Rangers.
The National Park Service, Alaska Fish & Game, tour operators and local fishermen
all act as a buffer to prevent poaching. The poaching of bears has not been a
problem in Katmai for the past 30 years. Remarkably, though Treadwell had a 35mm
camera and video camera with telephoto lens, in 13 summers he was never able
to get any photographs or film footage of these menacing poachers (who Treadwell
claimed carried machine guns), their boats or their floatplanes.
Treadwell once published a picture of what he called a poacher. It was actually
a tour operator Treadwell knew. When Patagonia, Inc. learned of this fact, Treadwell
had to destroy all brochures with the misleading picture and apologize to the
tour operator. Treadwell had deliberately created a false and misleading impression
for fundraising and self-promotional purposes.
Katmai National Park is not under threat from developers' bulldozers. National
parks are preserved from development, so Treadwell was not protecting bears from
4. What kind of bears was Treadwell supposedly "researching"? Were they
grizzly bears, or brown-grizzly bears, or grizzly-brown bears, or were they brown
Hollywood Hype: They were "Grizzlies the most dangerous and ferocious
animals in the world with 4 inch claws, huge and menacing" as noted per Keith
Morrison on Dateline NBC, and as described in Treadwell's book Among Grizzlies.
THE REALITY IS: Internationally the common name is brown bears, Ursus
arctos, and they are found in Italy, Spain, Russia and many other countries.
In North America they are also called Alaskan brown bears or coastal brown bears.
Often these Alaskan coastal brown bears have abundant food sources such as salmon
runs, berries and sedges, and as a result are somewhat more tolerant of each
other and humans. When bears are fishing they may encounter 40 other bears, as
well as tourists per day, and because of this they have developed "social skills".
Grizzly bear, Ursus arctos, was once the regional name for brown bears
found in the interior of North America. This is the common name used in places
like Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, or Banff and Jasper Parks in Canada.
They share a similar DNA with brown bears, but they do not have the same abundance
of food available, and they are generally much smaller. They do not have the
huge salmon runs and do not learn to socialize the way that Katmai coastal brown
bears do. Grizzlies have gained an exaggerated reputation for ferocity, but they
probably are more likely to confront visitors. Their name is actually derived
from the silver-tipped hairs giving them a "grizzled" appearance.
The interior grizzly bear has to work much harder at survival and has a much
more competitive environment in which to survive. Misleading readers and viewers
that the coastal brown bears of Katmai National Park are the same as "grizzly
bears" found in the interior creates a false impression. It leads millions of
visitors in grizzly habitat to falsely believe that they can walk up to a grizzly
bear the same way as Treadwell walked up to severely habituated, well-fed and
tolerant brown bears in Katmai National Park. His misleading information and
images put people and bears at risk.
Treadwell titled his book Among Grizzlies because of the cache' and promotional
hype value. They are not grizzlies.
Also; regarding bear research it should be noted that it was the two brothers
Drs John and Frank Craighead, who did important long term scientific studies
on actual grizzlies (in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,) not Timothy Treadwell, as
some may erroneously believe. Their wildlife research during the 60's and
70's through the 90's still stands as some of the best pioneering field research
into the ecology and behavior of wild brown bears.
5. What measures did Treadwell take to protect himself and the bears?
Hollywood Hype: Amazingly, Treadwell faced the "grizzlies" alone and did
his supposed research without a weapon, bear spray, or an electric fence for
THE REALITY IS: Treadwell was not allowed to carry a gun because it is
against National Park regulations. Every year, thousands of tourists and photographers,
including senior citizens and children visit Katmai National Park, and hike and
camp without carrying guns. Annually, across North America, millions of visitors
travel in brown bear, grizzly bear, polar bear and black bear habitat without
carrying guns as well.
In Katmai National Park, the Park Service recommends carrying bear pepper spray
and using electric fences. This is not only for the visitors' protection but
to prevent bears from being destroyed. Not using bear pepper spray or an electric
fence jeopardizes the bears. Treadwell did not use either of these when he, Amie,
and two bears were killed.
This was a promotional boast. In order for Treadwell to appear larger than life
he had to demonize the bears by saying he could live among them without a gun.
This creates a false fear of bears and discredits Treadwell's supposed efforts
to prove that bears aren't dangerous. Treadwell didn't really have a special
gift with bears. The brown bear population he camped near had been habituated
to human presence for over 50 years, and to large concentrations of other brown
bears for millennia.
Larry van Daele, a biologist for Alaska Fish & Game who investigated the
mauling site, wrote that "a person could not have designed a more dangerous location
to set up a camp". He added, "I'm kind of surprised he lasted as long as he did".
There were suitable camping areas nearby that would not have been in dense brush.
Special Note: Treadwell stated that if a bear ever killed him, he had a special
agreement with the National Park Service that no bears would be harmed. This
was false. The Park Service made it clear that he was not to conduct any activities
that were inappropriate and in violation of park regulations.
6. What about Treadwell's methods of photography and videography and their value?
Hollywood Hype: Treadwell was the first person to photograph and videotape
these brown bears. He got closer than anyone before. He alone had special permission
to get close to bears. He was given a special permit and the area was then closed
THE REALITY IS: Treadwell did not have special permission to get closer
than any other tourists did. All non-park personnel need to get a permit to go
into the backcountry. All photographers are supposed to stay 50 yards from individual
bears and 100 yards from mother bears with cubs. This is for the safety of both
people and bears. He was not the first person to photograph these brown bears.
Every year, thousands of amateur, semi-professional and professional photographers
and others travel to Katmai National Park to photograph spectacular landscapes
The value of his photographs is questionable, because they included his up close
and personal, hands-on message. This has become a management problem in our parks,
forests and refuges. More and more tourists are duplicating the inappropriate
actions shown on TV or included in books. This is now a national crisis, resulting
in disposable wildlife.
7. What part did the media play in the deaths of Treadwell, his girlfriend
and the bears?
Hollywood Hype: Dateline, People magazine, Lettermen, Rosie O'Donnell,
Discovery Channel. Once again Treadwell is ready to tell his story about living
among the fierce bears. Full celebrity status was given to Treadwell and his
book Among Grizzlies - a man who was described by some after his death as "The
THE REALITY IS: Treadwell peddled the idea that he had a unique relationship
with bears to producers and talk show hosts. This was to market his book and
to solicit donations to his private organization, which did not have a 501 C3
non-profit status. The media people saw a sensationalized story with big, wild
animals and never took the time to check the facts with the National Park Service,
or bear biologists.
Media competition for up close and personal shows with wild animals is part of
what led to Treadwell and his companion Amie's deaths. The need for these inappropriate
personal interactions with bears, in order to get on TV shows is leading to increasing
human-wildlife conflicts. Did Treadwell buy into his own Hollywood hype?
"The Crocodile Hunter", Steve Irwin kisses crocs on the snout on his show. Jeff
Corwin dangles poisonous snakes or in another episode, sneaks up on a supposed
wild grizzly bear at night in Glacier National Park. In actuality, this was a
rented, captive bear named 'BJ'. The Disney Company did not inform the public
that he was using a captive bear, not a wild bear.
Where was the media's responsibility in the deaths of Treadwell and Amie? They
created the demand for thrilling and dangerous behavior. Why didn't television
journalists who supposedly cared about Treadwell ask the National Park Service
or Alaska Fish & Game about his activities in Katmai? Why didn't they ask
if it followed appropriate protocol? Why didn't they ask if he was following
appropriate safety guidelines? Why didn't they ask professional bear biologists
or bear management specialists if it provided any meaningful research or was
of value to bears or their survival? Or did they just throw money at it because
it sounded like a novel and "in" thing to do?
Furthermore Tim Treadwell has been referred to as 'a bear whisperer' as if to
draw some comparison to Monty Roberts - "The Man who could talk to Horses". The
fact is, Mr. Roberts was a wrangler who has worked with domesticated horses for
decades. Horses are animals which have been bred and cared for by people for
thousands of years. It is inaccurate and misleading to call the late Mr. Treadwell
a bear whisperer. Also, horses are herbivores, while bears being carnivorous,
attack and kill prey.
"At best he is misguided," Deb Liggett, former superintendent at Katmai told
the Anchorage Daily News in 2001. "At worst, he's dangerous, if Treadwell models
unsafe behavior that ultimately puts bears and other visitors at risk."
Tom Smith, research ecologist and bear specialists with Alaska Science Center
of United States Geologic Survey, visited Katmai several years ago and watched
Treadwell interact with bears. "He was breaking every rule there was in terms
of distance to the bears, harassing wildlife and interfering with natural processes." Smith
said two days after the maulings. "Right off the bat, his personal mission was
at odds with the Park Service. He had been warned repeatedly. It's a tragic thing,
but it's not unpredictable."
8. What of the involvement of The Leakey Foundation, or comparing Treadwell's
work to Jane Goodall and the late Dian Fossey?
Hollywood Hype: The Leakey Foundation wrote to the President of the United
States to endorse Treadwell's work. They said he was not intrusive to the bears.
Writers and producers, as well as Treadwell himself, compared his inappropriate
activities with the works of primatologists Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.
THE REALITY IS: Imagine that his behavior was not considered intrusive!
Treadwell camped on bear trails, touched wild bears, and approached bears in
salmon streams foraging for food. He crawled on the ground close to females with
cubs chanting, "I love you" He boasted of having sex while the bears were nearby.
What part of this is not intrusive?
ane Goodall's work and history doing research on the chimps of Gombe stands
for itself. There is no comparison between Timothy Treadwell and Jane Goodall.
When individuals exploit both wildlife and Goodall's notoriety, The Goodall Foundation
should have spoken out immediately and insisted on no further comparisons. Recently,
Jane Goodall did speak at a press conference and said wild animals are not to
be exploited for our entertainment or profit. Why didn't Goodall speak out earlier
about Timothy Treadwell's exploitative and inappropriate actions? Dian Fossey,
who cherished her mountain gorillas, was deeply concerned about them being exploited
in much the same way that Treadwell exploited the brown bears.
Furthermore primate societies, such as those found among the great apes like
chimps and gorillas (which are social and form large groups) are entirely different from
bears. To suggest their is a similarity in the behavior of these 2 kinds of animals
is inaccurate and misleading.
9. What about Treadwell speaking in schools about bears?
Hollywood Hype: Treadwell did programs that reached over 10,000 kids every
THE REALITY IS: If the presentations reached 10,000 kids every year, and
with an average class size of 30 kids, that would mean at least 330 presentations
per year. Where did he find the time for that many presentations, even if he
addressed multiple classes at once? Given his propensity for storytelling, did
Treadwell really do all of these presentations, especially when he claimed to
spend 5 months each year in Alaska? He used his school program to reach famous
and wealthy parents for money.
Why didn't teachers do appropriate background checks? Teachers could have had
the students, as a class project, go on the Internet and find out if Treadwell
was acting appropriately and following the proper safety guidelines. They could
even have contacted Katmai National Park to find out if they approved of his
Corporate contributions and private foundations. Private funds for special research
projects are very difficult to find. Before corporations and foundations make
contributions, they should verify that their money is being used responsibly.
10. What kind of example did Treadwell set? What is his legacy?
Hollywood Hype: Treadwell can help promote bears and bear safety.
THE REALITY IS: Tens of thousands of amateur and semi-professional photographers
saw him break the rules and gain notoriety for it. Why should they follow the
rules? Treadwell did this for 13 years without getting thrown out on his ear.
Treadwell got away with it and was published. Treadwell went on national TV shows,
was featured in magazines; he claimed, "bears are just big party animals." How
will the Park Service justify enforcing rules in the future after Treadwell's
success? The new superintendent at Katmai National Park, Joe Fowler, doesn't
think they should have any new rules after Tim and Amie's deaths; after all,
they didn't enforce the old rules. The question is not why Treadwell did these
inappropriate activities, but why he was allowed to continue doing them for thirteen
Perhaps the final question after these tragic, unfortunate deaths of people and
bears is not so much who is to blame, but have we truly learned anything? After
all, as Nick Jans put it in his article 'Death in the Grizzly Maze', Alaska magazine,
02-04, "the bears just want to be left alone" What right do we have to steal
the bears' wildness, so we can treat them as 'domesticated pets'?
Some Final Points to Ponder
- His name wasn't Timothy Treadwell; it was Timothy Dexter.
- He was not an orphan from Australia or England; he was raised with his family
in New Jersey.
- He wasn't in a secret, remote part of Alaska with only bears and poachers;
he was in Katmai National Park where there was no threat of poachers or habitat
destruction. There were biologists, photographers, anglers, and backcountry campers
traveling through the Park daily.
- There was no essential, meaningful study or research that Treadwell was conducting.
The National Park Service denied him a research permit and told him not to conduct
himself in a manner that broke park regulations (approaching bears).
- He did not carry a gun (he was a hero); he was in a National Park where guns
are not permitted
- 'Grizzly People' is not a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
- He was very selective in where he targeted his school presentations to get
donations from wealthy patrons
- Treadwell's book, television appearances, video documentaries, and presentations
focused on him and not the welfare of the bears.
- People in the press and broadcasting industry need to seriously consider their
role in building a Treadwell myth. Why did the media become an enabler of this
- All of us have to think about how we can protect bears and other wildlife from
this kind of exploitation, media manipulation, and profiteering in the future.
Then take action to prevent more of it occurring in the future.
- Sadly Amie Huguenard was also fatally mauled. Tim Treadwell who did not use
the recommended electrical fencing or bear pepper spray should have seen to it
that she was properly protected even if he was careless about his actions around
- Regarding the protection of people and wildlife, and basic responsible behavior
in bear country, where were the television critics and media watchers to criticize
this inappropriate programming on Dateline, Rosie O'Donnell, Letterman and Discovery
Channel? The media must consider human and wildlife safety issues when producing
future wildlife programs. The public at large needs to speak out about the garbage
that is being broadcast and printed that exploits wildlife, is inaccurate and
promotes behavior that puts people and wild animals at risk!
State and federal agencies need to become pro-active. They can no longer passively
overlook or approve programs, which degrade or abuse people and wild animals.
For further references, please see:
Joel Bennett and Craig Medred's writings, Anchorage Daily News
Book reviews of Among Grizzlies at Amazon.com
Los Angeles Times article 'Grizzly activist, girlfriend victims of bear mauling',
October 8, 2003
National Post article 'Demise of the Bear Whisperer'
Outside magazine, January 2004
Juneau Enterprise, date?
Associated Press article 'Was California bear advocate naturalists or con-man?'
'Death in the Grizzly Maze' by Nick Jans, Alaska magazine February 2004
People magazine, Oct 27, 203
BBC News, Oct 8, 2003
Wild Things television show
National Park websites for appropriate information on behavior in bear country
'Grizzly People' web page and Leonardo DiCaprio websites
'Grizzly Diaries' Discovery Channel video documentary
Segments on Dateline-NBC, Tom Snyder, Late Night with David Letterman, Rosie