for National Geographic News
The documentary Grizzly Man, which had its broadcast-TV premiere this weekend, revisits the life and violent death of Timothy Treadwell, a controversial wildlife activist who spent 13 summers living among bears in the Alaskan wilderness.
Treadwell was discovered dead and partially eaten by one of his beloved grizzlies at his campsite in Katmai National Park in the fall of 2003. His girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, was also killed.
Using Treadwell's own dramatic video footage, the film tells the story of a controversial figure who put a history of drug and alcohol abuse behind him to devote his life to grizzlies. It was an obsession that cost Treadwell his life.
In the Werner Herzog-directed documentary, Treadwell is shown singing and reading poetry to grizzlies, calling them names like Mr. Chocolate, and even petting one on the nose.
Experts say Treadwell was an example of how not to behave around these animals.
Chuck Bartlebaugh, executive director of the Center for Wildlife Information, based in Missoula, Montana, describes Treadwell, a self-styled "kind warrior," as "irresponsible." Though he had a "great heart" and a "loving personality," Bartlebaugh said, Treadwell never should have done what he did.
Bartlebaugh, who advised Treadwell on his conduct around wild bears, said, "Tim agreed with us and the superintendent of Katmai National Park to no longer approach, stress, or harass the bears. But he misled [us]."
Bartlebaugh says Treadwell's decision to ignore this advice was influenced by his aim to become known as a "bear whisperer."
Treadwell clearly believed he had a special bond with the animals. In a letter to one of his sponsors in 2003 he wrote: "My transformation completea fully accepted wild animalbrother to these bears."
Weeks later he was killed, and by one of the bears he so adored. "The Park Service knew and had monitored the bear, and Tim knew it too," Bartlebaugh said.
Treadwell claimed to have identified 21 vocalizations and body languages in grizzlies. If that's the case, says Bartlebaugh, the one he didn't recognize was the most important: "It was the one that says, Leave me alone."
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