Timothy Treadwell, 10-05-03
Amie Huguenard

Timothy Treadwell

Wildlife author killed, eaten by bears he loved
KATMAI: Many had warned Treadwell that his encounters with browns were too close.

By CRAIG MEDRED, Anchorage Daily News
Published: October 8, 2003

A California author and filmmaker who became famous for trekking to Alaska's remote Katmai coast to commune with brown bears has fallen victim to the teeth and claws of the wild animals he loved.

Alaska State Troopers and National Park Service officials said Timothy Treadwell, 46, and girlfriend Amie Huguenard, 37, were killed and partially eaten by a bear or bears near Kaflia Bay, about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage, earlier this week.

Scientists who study Alaska brown bears said they had been warning Treadwell for years that he needed to be more careful around the huge and powerful coastal twin of the grizzly.

Treadwell's films of close-up encounters with giant bears brought him a bounty of national media attention. The fearless former drug addict from Malibu, Calif. -- who routinely eased up close to bears to chant "I love you'' in a high-pitched, sing-song voice -- was the subject of a show on the Discovery Channel and a report on "Dateline NBC." Blond, good-looking and charismatic, he appeared for interviews on David Letterman's show and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" to talk about his bears. He even gave them names: Booble, Aunt Melissa, Mr. Chocolate, Freckles and Molly, among others.
Amie Huguenard
A self-proclaimed eco-warrior, he attracted something of a cult following too. Chuck Bartlebaugh of "Be Bear Aware,'' a national bear awareness campaign, called Treadwell one of the leaders of a group of people engaged in "a trend to promote getting close to bears to show they were not dangerous.

"He kept insisting that he wanted to show that bears in thick brush aren't dangerous. The last two people killed (by bears) in Glacier National Park went off the trail into the brush. They said their goal was to find a grizzly bear so they could 'do a Timothy.' We have a trail of dead people and dead bears because of this trend that says, 'Let's show it's not dangerous.' ''

But even Treadwell knew that getting close with brown bears in thick cover was indeed dangerous. In his 1997 book "Among Grizzlies,'' he wrote of a chilling encounter with a bear in the alder thickets that surround Kaflia Lake along the outer coast of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

"This was Demon, who some experts label the '25th Grizzly,' the one that tolerates no man or bear, the one that kills without bias,'' Treadwell wrote. "I had thought Demon was going to kill me in the Grizzly Maze.''

Treadwell survived and kept coming back to the area. He would spend three to four months a summer along the Katmai coast, filming, watching and talking to the bears.

"I met him during the summer of '98 at Hallo Bay,'' said Stephen Stringham, a professor with the University of Alaska system. "At first, having read his book, I thought he was fairly foolhardy ... (but) he was more careful than the book portrayed.

"He wasn't naive. He knew there was danger."
Treadwell/Huguenard Maul Site

Despite that, Treadwell refused to carry firearms or ring his campsites with an electric fence as do bear researchers in the area. And he stopped carrying bear spray for self-protection in recent years. Friends said he thought he knew the bears so well he didn't need it.

U.S. Geological Survey bear researcher Tom Smith; Sterling Miller, formerly the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's top bear authority; and others said they tried to warn the amateur naturalist that he was being far too cavalier around North America's largest and most powerful predator.

"He's the only one I've consistently had concern for,'' Smith said. "He had kind of a childlike attitude about him.''

"I told him to be much more cautious ... because every time a bear kills somebody, there is a big increase in bearanoia and bears get killed,'' Miller said. "I thought that would be a way of getting to him, and his response was 'I would be honored to end up in bear scat.' ''

A number of other people said that over the years Treadwell made similar comments to them, implying that he would prefer to die as part of a bear's meal. All said they found the comments troubling, because bears that attack people so often end up dead.


Katmai park rangers who went Monday to retrieve the remains of Treadwell and Huguenard -- both of whom were largely eaten -- ended up killing two bears near the couple's campsite.

Katmai superintendent Deb Liggett said she was deeply troubled by the whole episode.

"The last time I saw Timothy, I told him to be safe out there and that none of my staff would ever forgive him if they had to kill a bear because of him,'' she said. "I kind of had a heart-to-heart with him. I told him he was teaching the wrong message.

"This is unfortunate, (but) I'm not surprised. It really wasn't a matter of if; it was just a matter of when.''

What led up to the latest Alaska bear attack, as well as exactly when it happened, is unknown. The bodies of Treadwell and Huguenard, a physician's assistant from Boulder, Colo., were discovered Monday by the pilot of a Kodiak air taxi who arrived at their wilderness camp to take them back to civilization. A bear had buried the remains of both in what is known as a "food cache.''

The couple's tent was flattened as if a bear sat or stepped on it, but it had not been ripped open, even though food was inside. The condition of the tent led most knowledgeable observers to conclude the attack probably took place during the daylight hours when Treadwell and Huguenard were outside the tent, instead of at night when they would have been inside. Most of their food was found in bear-proof containers near the camp.

Officials said the camp was clean but located close to a number of bear trails. Because of the concentration of bears in the Kaflia Lake area and a shortage of good campsites, however, it is almost impossible to camp anywhere but along a bear trail there.


Treadwell and Huguenard, who was in the process of moving from Colorado to Malibu to live with Treadwell, had last been heard from Sunday afternoon when they used a satellite phone to talk to Jewel Palovak. Palovak is a Malibu associate of Treadwell at Grizzly People, which bills itself as "a grass-roots organization devoted to preserving bears and their wilderness habitat.''

Palovak said she talked with Treadwell about his favorite bear, a sow he called Downy. Treadwell had been worried, Palovak said, that the sow might have wandered out of the area and been killed by hunters. So instead of returning to California at the end of September as planned, Treadwell lingered at Kaflia to look for her. Palovak said Treadwell was excited to report finding the animal alive.


What transpired in the hours after the phone call is unknown. The Kodiak pilot who arrived at the Treadwell camp the next day was met by a charging brown bear. The bear forced the pilot for Andrew Airways back to his floatplane.

Authorities said he took off and buzzed the bear several times in an effort to drive it out of the area, but it would not leave the campsite established by Treadwell and Huguenard. When the pilot spotted the bear apparently sitting on the remains of a human, authorities said, he flew back to the lake, landed, beached his plane some distance from the camp and called for help from troopers and the Park Service.

Interviews with sources who were on the scene provided this account:

Park rangers were the first to arrive. They hiked from the beach toward a knob above the camp hoping to be able to survey the scene from a distance. They had no sooner reached the top of the knob, however, than they were charged by a large brown bear.

It was shot and killed at a distance of about 12 feet. The Andrew Air pilot, according to Bruce Bartley of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, was convinced the large boar with the ratty hide was the same animal he'd tried to buzz out of the campsite. The boar was described as an underweight, old male with rotting teeth.

Authorities do not know if it was the bear that killed Treadwell and Huguenard. They were to fly to the site on Tuesday to search the animal's stomach for human remains but were prevented from doing so by bad weather.

After shooting that bear, rangers and troopers who had by then arrived walked down to the campsite and undertook the task of gathering the remains of the two campers. While they were there, another large boar grizzly went through the campsite but largely ignored the humans.

A smaller, subadult that appeared later, however, seemed to be stalking the group. Rangers and troopers shot and killed it.

"It would have killed Timothy to know that they killed the bears,'' Palovak said, "but there was no choice in the matter."

"He was very clear that he didn't want any retaliation against a bear,'' added Roland Dixon, a wealthy bear fan who lives on a ranch outside of Fort Collins, Colo., and has been one of Treadwell's main benefactors for the past six or seven years. "He was really adamant that he didn't want any bear to suffer from any mistake that he made. His attitude was that if something like this were to happen, it would probably be his fault.''

Bartlebaugh of "Be Bear Aware'' has no doubts that Treadwell loved the animals but believes the love was misguided.

"I'm an avid bear enthusiast,'' Bartlebaugh said. "It's the same attitude that I think Timothy had, but I don't want them (the bears) to be my friends. I don't want to have a close, loving relationship. I want to be in awe of them as wild animals.''

Palovak, Treadwell's associate, and Dixon take a different view.

"I think (Timothy) would say it's the culmination of his life's work,'' Palovak said. "He always knew that he was the bear's guest and that they could terminate his stay at any time. He lived with the full knowledge of that. He died doing what he lived for.''

"He was kind of a goofy guy,'' Dixon said. "It took me a while to get in tune with him. His whole life was dedicated to being with the bears, or teaching young people about them. That's all he ever did. It was always about the bears. It was never about Timothy. He had a passion and he lived his passion. There will be no one to replace him. There's just nobody in the bear world who studies bears like Timothy did.''

Dixon acknowledged Treadwell took risks with bears but dismissed as envious those who criticized his behavior .

Daily News reporter Elizabeth Manning contributed to this story. Daily News Outdoors editor Craig Medred can be reached at cmedred@adn.com.

TIMOTHY TREADWELL'S Web site, with photos of Alaska bears, is at www.grizzlypeople.com/home.php

Treadwell: 'Get out here. I'm getting killed'

MAULING: Sound of bear attack that killed two was captured by video camera.

By CRAIG MEDRED, Anchorage Daily News

Published: October 9, 2003

Among the last words Timothy Treadwell uttered to his girlfriend before a bear killed and partially ate both of them were these:

"Get out here. I'm getting killed.''

Words caught on a tape recording of the attack also reveal Treadwell's girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, shouting at him to play dead, then encouraging him to fight back.

Alaska State Troopers report that is what they heard on a videotape recovered Monday at the scene of a bear mauling in Katmai National Park and Preserve. The tape was in a camera found near the bear-buried remains of Treadwell, 46, and Huguenard, 37.

Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said there are no pictures on the tape, leading troopers to believe the attack might have happened while the camera was stuffed in a duffle bag or during the dark of night. Treadwell had talked to an associate in Malibu, Calif., by satellite phone around noon Sunday. He mentioned no problems with any bears.

The remains of the Southern Californians who periodically came to Alaska to live intimately with the bears were found the next day. A large but scrawny old bear with bad teeth that a pilot had seen sitting on the brush and dirt pulled over the bodies was shot and killed by National Park Service rangers at the scene after it charged them.

Troopers Wednesday refused requests to release the audiotape, but said it convinced them the two people had been killed by a bear. Speculation about whether a bear had actually done the killing had been fueled by Treadwell's oft-stated but unsubstantiated claim that he spent summers at Katmai to protect the bears from poachers and sport hunters.

"I'm their lifeguard,'' he told a reporter for The Davis (Calif.) Enterprise in 1999. "I'm there to keep the poachers and sport hunters away. I'm much more likely to be killed by an angry sport hunter than a bear.''

The Kaflia Bay area of Alaska's Gulf Coast -- where Treadwell spent most of his time in the state -- has long been closed to sport hunters, and Katmai rangers said there is no history of poachers killing bears in the area.

When bears die, they are usually killed by other brown bears, said park superintendent Deb Liggett, noting that 90 percent of the cubs each year are killed, and often eaten, by other brown bears. Adult bears sometimes kill each other there, too.

In this case, Wilkinson said, troopers are confident a bear was also responsible for killing the Malibu couple. Troopers are also convinced, he added, that the bear seen feeding on their bodies was the bear killed by Park Service rangers. There is no way, however, of knowing whether that bear or another shot by troopers at the scene did the actual killing.

The tape full of screams and rustling sounds details the attack, Wilkinson said, but adds little to explain exactly what happened or why. The tape, he said, lasts about three minutes. Scratching and dragging noises on it have led troopers to believe Treadwell might have been wearing a body mike when the attack began.

After Treadwell calls for help, Wilkinson said, Huguenard can be heard shouting "play dead.'' That is the recommended response to being grabbed by a brown or grizzly bear, but authorities stress the idea of playing dead should be abandoned if the bear continues to press the attack.

On the tape, shortly after the warning to "play dead,'' Wilkinson said, "Huguenard is heard to scream "fight back.'' Treadwell later yells "hit him with a pan,'' Wilkinson said.

After that, the tape goes dead. Because there are no pictures, troopers believe it is most likely the bear came in the night. The tent in which Treadwell and Huguenard had been camping showed no signs of being ripped open by a bear trying to attack people inside, but a friend of Treadwell's said it was common for him to leave the tent in the dark to confront bears that approached his camp.

"His way of operating was to get out of the tent immediately when he heard a bear around,'' Juneau filmmaker Joel Bennett said Wednesday. "He subscribed to the theory that the worst thing you could do was stay in the tent."

Bennett knew the flamboyant Treadwell well. Only two weeks before Treadwell's death they had spent weeks on Kodiak Island working on a Disney film about bears.

"You probably know that I've done three full-length films with him,'' Bennett said. "There's no question he had a remarkable repertoire with bears and had a remarkable ability for them to tolerate him ... (but) just so people don't get the wrong idea, Tim definitely knew there were bears out there that were bad medicine.

"This incident sounds to me like it had nothing to do with his work during the day to look at bears or photograph bears. It was a campsite situation.''

Dozens of scientists, bear guides and outdoor authorities who have spent their lives around Alaska's bruins have criticized Treadwell's daytime activities. The Californian had a seemingly overwhelming need to get close to bears.

"He was a strange dude,'' said Joe Darminio, a former guide at the Newhalen Lodge who used to take bear-viewing tourists to meet Treadwell. Many of the tourists, Darminio added, recognized Treadwell from television or his book, "Among Grizzlies -- Living with Wild Bears in Alaska.''

Opinions among the tourists were split on whether Treadwell's bear-stalking antics were crazy, but Darminio said there was agreement the blond Californian in the black Carhartt's with the bandana tied around his head like a pirate was entertaining.

It was hard to avoid being shocked or impressed by the fearless way he eased up to within feet of some of the most powerful predators on the continent. Treadwell said he could calm them by talking in his high-pitched sing-song voice and tell from their body language whether they posed any threat.

"He really was a Dian Fossey in that way,'' Bennett said. "She could have been killed by one swipe of a gorilla at any time. Dian Fossey got close to the gorillas. She touched them. Timmy did not encourage other people to do this. He says over and over in his films, 'Do not do this. Do not copy me.' It's obviously not something people should do, but it's something that he did."

Huguenard was exposed to Treadwell's daring antics at a grizzly bear presentation in Boulder, Colo. A graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine with a degree in molecular biology from the University of Colorado in Boulder, she knew trying to get close to brown bears was dangerous, but went along with Treadwell anyway.

"It was part of her life,'' sister Kathie Stowell told The Times' newspaper in their old hometown of Valparaiso, Ind. "They had a passion and that overrode everything.

"She definitely died, according to her, in the most beautiful, pristine place on earth.''

Reporter Elizabeth Manning contributed to this story. Daily News outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at cmedred@adn.com.

Biologist believes errors led to attack
BEARS: Californians' choices may have contributed to fatal encounter.

Anchorage Daily News
(Published: October 10, 2003)

Human remains and clothing found in the stomach of a 28-year-old brown bear killed by National Park Service rangers Monday have confirmed that the animal fed on the bodies of California animal activist Timothy Treadwell and girlfriend Amie Huguenard, authorities reported Thursday.

Fresh details about the attack near Kaflia Bay in Katmai National Park on Alaska's southwest coast also began to emerge.

According to a memo from Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Larry Van Daele, Treadwell set up his bear-viewing camp "in such a way that bears wishing to traverse the area would have had to either wade in the lake or walk right next to the tent. A person could not have designed a more dangerous location to set up a camp.''

In videos found at the scene, Van Daele said, Treadwell described "his campsite as (in) a potentially dangerous location, but he expresses his confidence that he understands these bears and they will not harm him.''

On Wednesday, Fish and Game dispatched Van Daele -- author of a book on the history of the brown bears on Kodiak Island and an authority on the half-ton coastal cousins of the grizzly bear -- to Kaflia to investigate what is believed to be the first deadly bear attack in Katmai park history.

"What caused this individual bear to kill and eat humans is unknown,'' Van Daele concluded. "It was very old but not in remarkably poor condition.''

Most likely, the biologist said, there was a chance encounter between the people and the bear that resulted in the bear attacking and the situation worsening from there. Though authorities who arrived on scene Wednesday found two bears competing to eat the carcass of an adolescent bear also killed by rangers on Monday, Van Daele stressed that he saw nothing to indicate "strange bear behavior occurring in the area.''

Alaska brown bears commonly scavenge any mammal carcasses they find, but attacks on humans are rare and cases of brown bears actually eating humans are so uncommon that even calling them rare would be an overstatement.

Audubon Society biologist John Schoen and other experts on Alaska grizzly and brown bears on Thursday pointed out that Treadwell's proclivity for trying to get close to Alaska bears for more than a decade illustrates nothing so much as the bears' amazing tolerance for humans. The self-proclaimed former drug addict and eco-warrior from Malibu, Calif., regularly approached bears on his summer sojourns here, often easing to within feet of them while talking to them in a sing-song voice.

On videotape recovered at Treadwell's camp, Van Daele said, there is more evidence of this potentially dangerous behavior.

One "video shows Ms. Huguenard within 3 meters (10 feet) of a sow with cubs as they fish,'' Van Daele wrote.

"One of the cubs came even closer to her while (Treadwell) filmed. She seemed uncomfortable but did not move. Some journal entries suggest that she was not as comfortable with the situation as he was. One of the last of his journal entries described his dismay as a large, adult male fought with one of his (Treadwell's) favorite sows near the camp.''

Such fights among bears are not uncommon, particularly late in the year when the bears are scrambling to put on as much fat as possible before winter. A poor berry crop this year and tapering salmon runs would only compound the situation, said Van Daele, who noted that the smaller brown bear killed in the area by park rangers and Alaska State Troopers on Monday had been largely eaten by other bears by Wednesday.

Rangers, troopers and Fish and Game biologists had to drive one bear off what was left of the carcass and shoo away another lurking in the alders nearby in order to investigate Treadwell's camp. They literally battled their way in, firing firecracker shells and using the whoop-whoop-whooping of a helicopter overhead to drive the animals away and keep them away.

From what was found at the campsite in this bear-infested area, and other information, Van Daele said he developed a theory on how Treadwell and Huguenard might have died on Sunday night.

"We will never know exactly what happened, and it is somewhat risky to speculate,'' he warned, but in effort to lend some sense to what happened, he offered this hypothesis based on journals, videotapes and evidence at the scene.

"The most telling piece of information is an audio recording made during the actual bear attack. This goes on for about six minutes and starts with (Treadwell) outside of the tent investigating a bear that came into camp. It was obviously raining very hard at the time and seems to have been twilight or evening, judging from some comments.

"The bear attacks (Treadwell), and he calls for help. Ms. Huguenard opens the tent fly and is very upset. At her urging, he 'plays dead.' It sounds like the bear then retreated for a couple minutes but returned. It again went after him, and he begged her to hit it with something. She in turn screamed for him to fight. The audio ends with his sounds no longer evident and her screams continuing.

"Based on all the evidence, I would guess that this old, large boar had been hanging around the areas getting the last fish of the season. There was little else available to eat, and he competed with the sow for food. Although not in bad condition, he needed more fat for the winter.

"That evening, probably Sunday night, (the male) was walking along a major bear trail and walked by the tent. When he encountered Mr. Treadwell, the bear reacted and either bit him and/or hit him. When he 'played dead,' the bear left, but as is often the case, when Mr. Treadwell started moving again, and/or Ms. Huguenard came to his aid, the bear returned.

"At this time, for some reason, the bear killed and ate him. I suspect that Ms. Huguenard's screams, which sound eerily like a predator call, may have prompted the bear to return and kill her. He then cached her body to be eaten later.''

A predator call is a device hunters use to lure foxes, coyotes and wolves into rifle range. It has a high-pitched tone meant to imitate the call of an injured animal. The calls have been known to attract bears in Alaska.

The old boar that fed upon Treadwell and Huguenard -- and is likely the one that killed them both -- was estimated to weigh more than 1,000 pounds and had broken canine teeth. Van Daele doesn't think the other bear that rangers shot at the scene Monday, an apparent 3-year-old, had anything to do with the killings. That bear's stomach, along with most of its carcass, had already been consumed by other bears.

"In my assessment,'' Van Daele added at the end of a five-page memo, "Mr. Treadwell's actions leading up to the incident, including his behavior around bears, his choice of a campsite and his decision not to have any defensive methods or bear deterrents in the camp, were directly responsible for this catastrophic event.''

Treadwell had carried bear-repelling spray for self-protection when he first began coming to Alaska to commune with the bears but had stopped carrying it in recent years. The founder of Grizzly People, an organization for bear lovers, Treadwell didn't believe it was right to spray bears with the irritating pepper spray -- even if it caused no long-term injuries to the bears.

"He just felt that was an invasive, aggressive mechanism that translated into a kind of attitude. He didn't want to have that attitude,'' said friend Joel Bennett, a Juneau filmmaker. "He kind of wanted to resign himself to whatever happened.''

Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at cmedred@adn.com.