Brown bear watching and wildlife tours on the wild coast of Katmai National Park in Alaska.
Brown bear watching & wildlife tours on the coast of Katmai National Park, Alaska

Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
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The Myth of Timothy Treadwell
by John Rogers; Katmai Coastal Bear Tours

Timothy Treadwell’s death in 2003 has led to the production of two books, two movies... and a lot of speculation(1). Nonetheless, only two facts have been established beyond question: first, that along with Timothy, Amie Huguenard was also killed, as well as two bears; second, that no-one really knew Timothy Treadwell or understood what he was trying to achieve through his life with the bears along the coast of Katmai National Park(2).

It is well known that Timothy Treadwell was an aspiring actor who worked as a waiter and bartender with problems of drug addiction and alcoholism in California. However, during the summer of 1989, he underwent a transformation so sudden and remarkable that it allowed him to survive thirteen summers of camping with brown bears before being killed and consumed by them. During this time, the world got to know Treadwell as the bear-man, the educator of children about bears, the author and film-maker, the actor and con-artist...

My observations might give some insight into his aspirations with the bears. I believe Timothy's main ambition was acting and film-making. Surviving his first summer amongst Alaska’s brown bears not only gave him a reason to live, it also provided him with an idea – this is how he would fund what he really wished to do; if he succeeded in making people believe these bears needed his protection, he would get the acknowledgment, the equipment and the economic support he needed to fuel his desire.

Additionally, there was, in my opinion, a deeper and more personal side to Timothy’s love affair with the bears. The latest movie, Grizzly Man, shows Timothy Treadwell as a lost soul, shy and insecure about his sexuality, an introvert, effeminate-mannered young man constantly seeking some form of recognition. This, he got from the bears, and so he found himself insatiably repeating the experience time and time again. The bears didn’t need his protection; he, however, craved for their tolerance and acceptance. Grizzly Man shows a Timothy Treadwell who is passionate about the bears. I’d say Timothy cared about them as much as any bear enthusiast or commercial operator along the coast of Katmai, but this was second place to his own fascination about himself as a so-called “bear-whisperer”.

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(1) Two books have been published. One of them is The Grizzly Maze, by Nick Jans. The author is an Alaskan writer, understands bears, and is friends with Joel Bennett, who had insight into Timothy’s life from working with him filming bears along the Katmai coast. The other book, Death in the Grizzly Maze, by Mike Lapinski, is also informative. A documentary, Deadly Passion, by Stefan Quinth, is quite enlightening, although the ending shows poor taste, with the killing of a small young bear. The movie, Grizzly Man, was directed by Werner Herzog and co-produced by Jewel Palovak, Timothy’s friend and business partner. I enjoyed the movie, and it helped to clarify some of my thoughts about Timothy. However, I was disappointed, considering all the film footage and notes available, plus the knowledge that Jewel Palovak must have about Timothy Treadwell.

(2) Bear experts (Tom Smith, Lynn Rogers, Steve Stringham, Matt Breiter) and bear viewing guides (Spike Christopher, Buck Wilde, Brad Josephs, John Bartoline, Kent Fredriksson) had occasional contact with Timothy Treadwell. Bill Sims, a knowledgeable and experienced pilot and lodge owner in the Katmai area, befriended Timothy from the beginning. He kept an eye on him, assisting him on occasion. Willy Fulton, Andrew Airways pilot, transported Timothy to and from Katmai. Timothy regularly sent letters and made phone calls to known bear experts seeking information, recognition and acceptance. I think it is fair to say we all knew a different Timothy Treadwell, and that’s exactly what he wanted.

Part 2 - My Relationship with Timothy Treadwell
Part 3 - About the Attack & Final Note

Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
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Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
Homer, Alaska 99603
Phone 1-800-532-8338
katmaibears@alaska.net
1-907-235-8337

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