In the early 1990s, Timothy Treadwell swore that he would dedicate his life to caring for grizzlies and that he would get to interact with them. The adventure lasted 13 years until one of the animals attacked him, mutilated him to death, and then ate him.
Even scarier: Treadwell was not alone, and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard was also mutilated to death.
Timothy Treadwell's Fascination with Bears
Timothy Treadwell was an enthusiastic environmentalist for grizzly or gray bears, a subspecies of browns. He "loved" them, as he confessed on numerous occasions. He felt that his goal in life was to protect them, and so he decided to cohabit with them in the wild in Alaska's Katmai National Park.
For 13 summers, Treadwell would settle there without any weapon to defend himself from the possible attack. He filmed the wildlife of these mammals, every movement, search for food, and confrontations that the group had.
"Look at me how much I love bears, how I respect them, how I am one of them," he said in front of the camera, strangely proving that Timothy truly felt like one more bear. He believed that he knew each specimen. They understood his feelings, as they were his friends.
Much of the footage Timothy Treadwell recorded was used by director Werner Herzog, who in 2005 released a documentary about his life called Grizzly Man.
The conservationist said he felt that he was in control of what was happening:
"There are times when my life is on the brink of death. These bears can bite and kill. And if I am weak, I lose. I love bears with all my heart. I will protect them and die for them. But I will not die by their claws. I will fight and I will be strong. I will be one of them. I will be the master."
The Reasons Behind Timothy Treadwell's Bold Decision
Prior to poring over the wildlife of grizzly bears, Timothy Treadwell had tried to make it as an actor in Hollywood, but his career never took off. He came second in an audition for a television show and having "failed" in the attempt, he gave up on acting.
He started working as a waiter, and as the years passed, his addiction to alcohol and drugs became unsustainable. Until he had a near-fatal overdose.
At that moment, Timothy Treadwell had an epiphany. He discovered "the land of the bears" and believed that to be redeemed, he must be rehabilitated. Timothy Treadwell confessed years later:
"The bears needed someone to take care of them, but not someone who was a mess. So, I promised the bears to take care of them and that they would help me be a better person. They were an inspiration. I was able to stop drinking. It was a miracle."
He had finally found solace in his life but also a mission, as he believed himself to be the only one capable of saving the grizzlies that lived in remote Alaska from poachers.
He's heard saying on a recording as tears begin to appear in his eyes.
"I would die for these animals. Thanks to these animals I have a life, I didn't have before."
Timothy Treadwell wanted to document the animals so that the whole world would know about them. He created the Grizzly People Foundation and went one step further. He decided to see firsthand the behaviors of bears. For this, he settled in Alaska for 13 years in a row for two to four months in the summer.
Becoming The Grizzly Man
Although he knew that it was a dangerous passion, nothing could stop him. Timothy Treadwell loved bears so much that he didn't even carry weapons to defend himself in case he feared for his life.
On the first days of summer, the man would settle with a tent in the national park and begin searching for bears. He violated the authorities' rules that prevented camping in the same place for more than a week and used gadgets and camouflage to go unnoticed. Then, he would record the mammals and observe all their actions.
He came to recognize each specimen in "the land of bears." He had known them since they were little and kept track of their development year after year. He chose a name for them and classified them according to how he considered each animal's personality. "I know the language of bears," he insisted.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous rules Timothy Treadwell broke was staying 300 feet away from grizzlies. Timothy tracked them down to get close to them and touch them. He considered that he had managed to connect and interact with them.
In some close encounters with the mammals, he would bend over backward to maintain control. He is heard on camera as he records female bear drinking water from a lake:
"The bear is moving away; I was able to stand my ground. I'm earning her respect."
On other occasions, a bear approached him, and he called him by his nickname:
"Hey Grinch, how are you?" he asks him. And when he sees that the bear gets too close, he yells at it: "Don't do that to me again. Go back", as if it were a pet. "Don't do anything. I love you. I love you, I love you. Forgive me."
Some people who knew him and worked with him claimed that Timothy Treadwell acted as if the bears were people in bear costumes, not wild animals. His hypersensitivity towards nature made him cry when he found a dead animal. He spoke to the corpses, caressed them, and dedicated heartfelt words, recorded by his camera.
Timothy Treadwell's bursts of enthusiasm were recorded on his home tapes. They showed the suffering and frenzy that he felt when considering himself the guardian of the bears.
Over time he became known in the United States and came to be referred to as a "celebrity." It was something he always wanted. He toured North American schools giving talks to children about what he had learned during his Alaskan expeditions.
Timothy participated in the most famous television programs and was interviewed by influential journalists and presenters, such as David Letterman. He had become a star.
When asked how he dared to live with wild animals, he simply replied: "They are misunderstood." When questioned what he would do if he were attacked by one of them, he reiterated: "I would never kill a bear in self-defense."
At times, Timothy felt so identified with animals that he got into the same river where they took a bath and came closer than he should have.
Timothy Treadwell's Last Recording
The summer of 2003 was the last time Timothy Treadwell enjoyed what he loved most. On October 6, the unimaginable happened. That night, a bear killed him and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, who had accompanied him on the expedition. The bear ate them both.
The couple was finishing a season of cohabitation. The next day, they planned to be picked up by a helicopter to return home since winter was approaching and it was impossible to survive the region's temperatures.
Unlike previous years, they had decided to stay longer than usual in Alaska. The season was over, and most bears had left the area to hibernate. Only the surliest specimens had remained there.
On a faithful night, there was a powerful storm. A bear approached the tent where Timothy was sleeping next to his girlfriend. The animal was looking for food.
The one who discovered the deaths of Amie and Timothy was Willy Fulton, the pilot who went to look for them. Twenty-four hours earlier, he had talked to Timothy to arrange the trip, but as soon as he landed in Katmai National Park, he noticed something strange.
There was no one there, and despite shouting for him, he got no response. The silence of the place shocked him.
He then decided to fly to where the couple was staying and saw the worst image. The camp was destroyed, and there was a bear crouched down eating a rib cage.
When the authorities arrived at the camp, they saw human remains scattered nearby. The park rangers killed the bear that was still there. When they opened their stomach, they discovered human remains and clothing. Half of Timothy Treadwell's arm still had his wristwatch on it.
However, the most shocking thing was that the video camera had recorded the ferocious attack with the lid on, so it only managed to capture the sound. In the audio, Amie is heard yelling, "Get out of here!", screaming and roaring.
Due to the sensitivity and crudeness of the material, very few people had access to it. The recommendation was to destroy the tape.
Ten days before the attack, as if foreshadowing his fate, Timothy Treadwell filmed a bear in a river, explaining that food was scarce for the animals.
"These types of bears are old and aggressive. One has to be careful because these are the bears that are capable of killing and eating humans to survive. I think if you were weak against him, you lose."
Many people labeled Timothy Treadwell an outcast and a loner. However, his life shows the true human nature and the longing to flee to the animal kingdom.
After his death, two of his friends led the association he founded. They insist on the importance of Treadwell's work. They also confirmed that no grizzly bears were killed during his 13-year environmentalist expedition in Alaska.