Timothy Treadwell spent 13 summers living with grizzly bears in remote Alaska. He loved them and gave them cute pet names like Mr. Chocolate. These wild animals were anything but cute. Weighing up to 1,700 pounds and standing up to 7 feet tall, these animals were dangerous. Treadwell wasn’t afraid though. He claimed he was an, “accepted wild animal and brother to these bears.” The grizzlies begged to differ. They tolerated his presence, but ultimately killed him.
Ironically, Treadwell believed the bears saved him from an early death. As a young man, he jumped feet first into a party lifestyle. He became an alcoholic and a drug addict. It was a near-fatal drug overdose, which changed his fate. The brush with death saved him from an early grave.
Treadwell decided he needed to get away from people. The remote and wild parts of Alaska were just what he needed. In 1989, he came face to face with a grizzly for the first time.
Treadwell wrote, “The encounter was like looking in a mirror. I gazed into the face of a kindred soul.”
The grizzly ran away, but the seeds were sown. Treadwell called it a revelation. He never touched drugs again. He had found a new addiction – bears!
For the next 13 years Treadwell spent each summer filming himself getting closer to the bears. He believed he shared a unique bond with them and was there to protect them.
Bear experts criticized Treadwell for sentimentalizing the wild animals. He refused to carry safety precautions like pepper spray. He believed he was somehow helping the bears, but experts believed he was causing them stress. They claimed he got too close and harassed them by singing songs and even touching them.
Native American Sven Haakanson said, “Treadwell tried to be a bear. You don’t invade their territory. It’s disrespecting the bear.”
Treadwell believed the bears were misunderstood creatures. He felt bears and humans could live side by side in harmony. This mistake cost him his life.
After 13 years of living amongst the bears, Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten by one of the bears.
Treadwell said he was “an accepted wild animal.” While grizzly bears seldom attack humans, they do attack and eat other bears. In his final moments perhaps the bear saw him as a rival bear. If so, Treadwell was tragically getting the acceptance he wanted.
German director Werner Herzog made a documentary on Treadwell called Grizzly Man. He explained, “that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature.”