We Watched “Grizzly Man” With a Bear Biologist. It Received Bizarre.

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Each time somebody does one thing silly round a bear, the web has two phrases for them: Grizzly Man. It’s laborious to think about a backpacker who isn’t acquainted with Werner Herzog’s critically acclaimed documentary or its idiosyncratic topic Timothy Treadwell. When the film got here out in 2005, it was a Sundance Movie Competition hit, however even earlier than that, Treadwell was a well known determine for each his time residing amongst and documenting the brown bears of Katmai Nationwide Park and the disagreeable manner it ended.

Nonetheless, there’s one backpacker who has remained roughly oblivious to Grizzly Man’s story: me. I credit score that to being 6 years previous on the time of its premiere and sure extra within the Berenstain Bears than documentaries concerning the cruelty of nature. Practically 20 years later, it simply by no means made it to the highest of my queue, and I discovered myself in a workers assembly admitting that I, a Backpacker editor, had by no means seen Grizzly Man.

I made a decision that if I used to be going to look at it, I needed to do it proper. I enlisted the assistance of Wesley Larson, a wildlife biologist and host of Tooth and Claw, a podcast that examines human-wildlife battle and the teachings we will be taught from it. Larson has labored with every thing from black bears to polar bears, and he joined me for a watch celebration to clarify what Treadwell did fallacious (and, typically, proper) all through his time in Katmai.

Right here’s an edited model of our dialog.

“They deal with us like they deal with different bears in locations like this.”

Wes: There are a number of bears within the shot: You’ve acquired a feminine with cubs; you’ve acquired what appears to be like like a few males. In coastal Alaska or coastal British Columbia, the place you will have these actually nice meals sources, you see a variety of bears in the identical locations. As a result of they’re so used to being round different bears, they’re not practically as aggressive or practically as territorial as bears in Yellowstone or Glacier may be, as a result of there’s a lot meals, and that meals has allowed them to be at such excessive densities. They deal with us like they deal with different bears in locations like this.

They’re actually tolerant of people as a result of they’re additionally tolerant of different bears. That’s why Timothy was capable of get so shut. That’s why once you see folks in Katmai or Brooks Falls, they’ve bears strolling proper subsequent to them. If in case you have the identical actual bear in Yellowstone or Glacier, it’s the identical animal, nevertheless it’s going to behave rather more aggressively as a result of it has to defend its sources and its territory and every thing from different animals. These guys don’t actually have to do this. They’re rather more docile and tolerant of human presence.

“They use folks virtually as babysitters”

Emma: How shut is that? That’s not zoom, proper?

Wes: Proper. It’s as a result of these bears are okay with folks being round. There are even some anecdotal observations of feminine grizzlies that can go away their cubs with folks observing them and go fishing. They use folks virtually as babysitters for his or her cubs, as a result of they’ve grow to be so tolerant of different bears and folks. He’s manner too shut, although. It’s positively not a state of affairs it’s best to ever end up in until you’re with a information.

Emma: That’s a variety of belief within the animals.

“It’s flirting with catastrophe”

Wes: As bear biologists, we frequently say that you just don’t need to let the animals make the choice on how that interplay goes to go. That’s why having a deterrent is so vital. You need bear spray, as a result of that offers you the ability to resolve how that interplay goes to finish up, and provides the animal that energy, which Timothy did in all of those circumstances. I don’t personally really feel snug not having management over the interplay.

Emma: Do you assume that it’s inappropriate that Timothy was seeing these indicators of aggression and ignoring them?

Wes: It’s flirting with catastrophe. I don’t know if I’d say it’s inappropriate. He’s stressing the animals out. He’s making them have to speak that over and over and over. If you happen to’re continually having that sort of interplay with bears—even when it’s all the time simply the bear telling you that it’s upset and by no means initiates a mauling or something like that— it’s the bears telling you one thing, and also you’re not listening.

He sees that as, “I’m proving to the bear that I’m dominant.” In the end, even when it takes years, you’re going to fulfill a bear that decides that it desires to have interaction, that it doesn’t need to go away it at that. It desires to take it a step additional.

“Timothy thought he was the dominant bear within the ecosystem”

Wes: I’ve spent a couple of days flying round Kodiak with Willy [Fulton], and we talked about Timothy and bears the entire time. He’s a very cool man and an important pilot, so I used to be fortunate to spend a while with him.

He talked about he all the time had a foul feeling about that bear that he and lots of people assume was accountable. Numerous folks assume that it was a special bear that killed him, and this bear pushed that smaller bear off of the carcasses and began feeding, which occurs so much, particularly in a dense inhabitants of grizzly bears. Simply because this bear they killed had Timothy’s and Amy’s stays within it doesn’t imply it’s the accountable bear. It could be a bear you’d nonetheless in all probability need faraway from the inhabitants as a result of it has ate up an individual, however there may be some debate there.

Emma: The place do you fall in that debate?

Wes: I are inclined to imagine it was a special bear. My advisor was working in Katmai on the time, he was actually near all of this, and that was his opinion. I belief him as a result of he was there and he is aware of bears very well.

Wes: Timothy thought he was the dominant bear within the ecosystem. I believe he was previous the purpose of accepting any enter on that. I believe he had satisfied himself that they’d by no means damage him, and he was untouchable.

Emma: Appears like he had a god complicated.

“I’m certain his final his final emotions had been, ‘Oh I fucked up.’”

Emma: How is Timothy not going loopy? I imply, he sort of is—he’s on their lonesome. No less than he has the unknown viewer to speak to.

Wes: It’s like that present “Alone” the place they speak to the digital camera on a regular basis, and that nearly turns into a stand-in for an additional individual. However, Willy checked out and in and dropped off provides. And he’s in Katmai; he’s in a spot the place there’s a truthful quantity of tourism. It’s not like he by no means had contact with folks. He did have contact with park officers, and my advisor wrote letters backwards and forwards with him. I believe like a variety of issues in his life, he tried to make it appear extra romantic than it really was.

Emma: So do you assume, as he was dying, he was glad about it as a result of he was sort of a martyr?

Wes: No. There’s audio recording of him dying. My advisor listened to it. I’ve by no means listened to it, nevertheless it’s quarter-hour of him being dismantled by a bear. You’ll be able to hear his arm being separated from his physique in it. It’s the worst doable technique to go.

There’s no manner for a cut up second in that have he was like, “Sure, lastly, that is how I wished to go.” It’s a horrible, terrible, violent technique to go, and I’m certain his final his final emotions had been, “Oh I fucked up.” Not like, “Oh that is nice; I’m dying the best way I wished.” It’s like, “I must get out of this expertise as shortly as doable.”

Hallo Bay (Photograph: Courtesy Lionsgate)

Grizzly Maze (Photograph: Courtesy Lionsgate)

Wes: You’ll be able to see there’s a giant distinction between the 2 environments the place he camped. With these bears in Hallo Bay, it’s very open coastal grass. You’ve gotten the flexibility for the bears to see you approaching. They’ve this warning distance the place they get to acknowledge, “Okay, that is Timothy.” They know him, they know his presence, they know what’s taking place.

Then in an surroundings like within the Grizzly Maze, there are actually thick alders and this dense habitat the place it’s a lot simpler to shock a bear. They’ve so much much less time to resolve if you happen to’re good friend or foe, if you happen to’re meals or not. It’s a way more sophisticated surroundings to be round an animal like a grizzly bear. I do assume that does play a think about what in the end occurred to him. This dense, enclosed surroundings the place they need to make a lot faster choices than they’d in a spot like Hallo Bay.

“He was doing no good by being there.”

Emma: Do you assume that [Timothy] was as efficient in his mission as he wished to be?

Wes: I suppose, in a bizarre manner as a result of Werner Herzog made a documentary about him, [he] was. I believe numerous folks now see that grizzly bears aren’t bloodthirsty senseless killers, or they do have behaviors which can be considerably predictable to the place folks may even coexist with them.

Alternatively, his mission was a failure in that he was attempting to guard these particular bears, and he acquired no less than two of them killed. They killed two of those bears that had been feeding on him, and who is aware of what number of different bears turned so habituated to people that in addition they needed to be killed due to downside habits. I do assume he was very misguided.

Timothy thought he was defending these bears. These are bears in Katmai Nationwide Park; they’ve entry to salmon streams, they usually have entry to all these nice coastal sources. These are actually among the most protected bears on the earth with the healthiest populations. That is, to me, one of the vital delusional issues that he had going for him.

This may sound somewhat harsh, however to me, Timothy was all about Timothy. He wished to be near the bears, he wished to have this entry to them and have this private relationship with them. He was doing no good by being there. It’s actually fascinating to listen to all through the documentary him saying issues like, “I’m right here to guard them. They want me as a protector,” as a result of that’s fully off base.

Emma: It doesn’t sound like they wanted him as a lot as he wanted them.

“They died in a very violent, horrible manner.”

Wes: I respect the fervour he has for these animals. It’s laborious to work round an animal as charismatic as a grizzly bear and never need to dedicate your life to them. The channel he picked to do this was actually unhealthy and self-serving.

That is an animal that had a really wholesome inhabitants in a protected space that didn’t want any interference. That’s why these park personnel weren’t interfering with them, as a result of they had been present in a pure state. For no matter cause, he thought he wanted to be there to guard them, and he completely was pointless. I believe the best way he selected to [protect them] was very dangerous and in the end value him his life and the lifetime of an primarily harmless bystander. They died in a very violent, horrible manner.

Whenever you’re eaten by a bear, they’re very totally different from different predators, in {that a} lion or a tiger or a giant cat goes to dispatch their prey and chew via the windpipe or do one thing to kill it, to allow them to then drag it someplace to eat it safely. A bear doesn’t try this; a bear will actually sit on you and eat you. Typically these folks die by bleeding out, and it takes a very long time. It’s 10 to fifteen minutes of this bear sitting on you consuming you alive, not ripping out crucial organs or one thing to kill you. Typically you luck out, and the bear kills you shortly. In his case, that wasn’t what occurred.

“If you might want to go reside with an animal within the wild, get a canine.”

Emma: It looks like he idealized every thing about his state of affairs earlier than he was killed, together with the dangers. “If that’s how I die, that’s how I need to die” looks like a delusional mind-set.

Wes: Once I began my journey in bear biology, I all the time thought, “I hope I’m killed by a bear sooner or later.” The extra I’ve realized about it, particularly doing Tooth and Claw and studying about how horrible of a manner it’s to go, that’s completely not how I need to die. It’s the final manner I need to die.

If you happen to’re round bears, have a deterrent with you, even when they’re black bears as a result of it provides you a lot extra energy in these interactions. There’s no cause to not have that additional security with you. It’s like driving in a automotive and not using a seatbelt. It’s proper there; it’s simple to make use of. If you happen to resolve to not have that seatbelt, at that time, you’re giving up a variety of management.

Typically folks ask me, “What do you do in a bear encounter?” And I all the time say, “Get your bear spray out, and get it prepared.” They’re like, “What if I don’t have bear spray?” Effectively, you’re already sacrificing your management of that state of affairs. You’re not carrying your seatbelt, you’re deciding that you just’re going to take an even bigger danger than you might want to.

Additionally, if you might want to go reside with an animal within the wild, get a canine, get a special pastime. Go speak to a therapist and do one thing else, as a result of I can virtually assure you’re not going to be doing any good until you’re a biologist doing a little form of examine otherwise you’ve been employed to do this. You’re doing a little hurt.