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

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

ABOUT THE ATTACK

I am inclined to believe that the first bear killed by the Park Service, which had consumed both Timothy and Amie, had been in the area for a long while and was not responsible for the attack. Size and age made this a very intimidating bear but he was not overly aggressive. He tended to demand respect without aggression – you could see disdain in its face whenever it was confronted, whether by humans or bears. It was known by all other bears in the area, and it only needed to look at them or approach them slightly for them to back off or leave the area. No aggression was needed. It is more likely that this bear claimed the bodies from a smaller, younger bear, possibly new to the area.

Willy Fulton identified this bear as #141, the bear killed by the Park Service which had consumed Timothy and Amie. It's possible this bear was responsible for the attack. My reason for believing differently is knowing the length of time of the attack.


Aug. 1, 2003


Aug. 1, 2003

In bear country, you have to accept the fact that the decisions you make will determine the safety of bear encounters. Bears use their instinct, learning, and keen senses to make choices that are best for them.
 Our choices must be the best for them too.

Many factors may have contributed to the deadly encounter, among them the lateness of the year, a natural time when bears become more anxious and antagonistic, due to the reduced amount of food available and the call of hibernation just around the corner, and the weather conditions, which were very poor at the time, with a lot of rain and wind. I believe the bear, new to the area or not, was curious about the tent and the possible smells coming from it, food and human odors.

Timothy and Amie were planning to be picked up on 5th October. Through experience, Tim would have packed early, expecting that if a weather-window allowed the float-plane in for a pick-up, they would need to be ready. When it became obvious the weather wasn’t going to cooperate, Timothy would pack the gear and food next to his tent and cover it with the storage tent, or he’d quickly sit the tent up to store the gear and food. This process would have stirred up a lot of smells in the area. The bear was probably curious about it all, approached the tent, and Timothy confronted it with his usual reaction of dominance towards a curious bear (making noise, hollering and running towards it)(3) . This situation, especially if the bear was unknown to him, along with the poor weather conditions, which make it difficult for bears to use their sense of smell and hearing, likely triggered the attack.

Grizzly Man includes the last shot from Timothy’s camera, with himself filming his “goodbye” and the campsite in the background. I keep on wondering how much time there was between that last video-clip and the time of the attack. My guess is, Timothy returned to the camp with the camera still on standby and the attack happened shortly thereafter. The remote, activated by Timothy or accidentally during the struggle with the bear, turned the camera on, resulting in the sound being recorded.(4)

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(3) The bear involved in the attack might have discovered food smells coming from the gear and food containers outside the tent and was intent on checking them out. Under these circumstances, a bear that might otherwise have run away could take exception to someone interfering with his feeding and promptly snap when interrupted. A study at Yosemite showed that a black bear can usually be chased away, but this becomes harder once the bear has latched onto food. This type of aggressive behavior is a kind of cache defense, which is the cause of maybe 10 percent of killings by grizzly bears.

(4) A remote was found with the camera in its case, leading to speculation that the camera was turned on by Amie. I don’t think this to be. This remote was probably a spare back-up, should he lose the other one or it stopped working, which likely happened to him more than once in an environment such as Kaflia’s, where he spent weeks crawling and running through the brush.

A FINAL NOTE

Timothy Treadwell was not the foolhardy person the media portrays him to be. In his 13 years in Alaska, he probably had more bear encounters than anyone, except maybe Vitaly Nikolayenko, who spent 25 years doing much the same thing Timothy did until a bear killed him in Kamchatka two months after Timothy was killed in Alaska. Contrary to his media image, Timothy was not one to blithely walk up to a bear. He was cautious, even fearful, around bears he didn’t know, but he developed relationships and mutual trust with a few individual bears over the years. I watched him sitting on the beach as a trusting mother came by and stopped a few feet from him to play with her cub without a care about Tim’s presence. Timothy sometimes videotaped his approaches to these bears to show that these feared animals are not always as fierce as generally thought. Those videotapes have been used to portray Timothy as reckless. He obviously loved the bears that allowed him to break through barriers. He sang to them and gave them friendly names, which further seemed odd to a public trained to think of grizzlies as ferocious.

Nothing qualifies me to write about Timothy Treadwell – I am not a writer or a bear expert. However, I did know and observe Timothy camping with the bears along the Katmai coast every summer, from his first life-changing visit to Alaska to the year of his tragic death. As a spectator mostly from a distance, I have endeavored to offer a simple view of a complex person. My hope is, this will help to understand Timothy Treadwell’s myth, how he survived thirteen summers among the Katmai bears, and how he may have finally managed to get himself killed.

Part 1 - The Myth of Timothy Treadwell
Part 2 - My Relationship with Timothy Treadwell
Part 3 - About the Attack & Final Note
 

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Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
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