Archive for Sunday, November 9, 2003

Dead bear naturalist was dedicated, foolish

November 9, 2003


Bears are not humans. Bears are not cuddly. Bears do not speak English. Bears are not pets. Bears are not play-date friends.

Timothy Treadwell never seemed to understand this. Disney apparently doesn't understand this.

Bears are animals. Bears have sharp teeth. Bears have sharp claws. Bears may kill people. Bears may eat people.

Timothy Treadwell never seemed to understand this. Disney apparently doesn't understand this.

And now Timothy Treadwell -- and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard -- are dead and Disney is showing kids how warm and cuddly bears can be.

Treadwell, 46, and Huguenard, 37, of Malibu, Calif., were killed by bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska in early October.

This was an unfortunate though not surprising incident. For years, Treadwell, who wrote a book titled "Among Grizzlies," spent months at a time in the wild living in a tent observing grizzly bears.

While such actions in pursuit of science can be laudable, Treadwell had aroused park ranger concern and attention for treating the risks of his wanderings -- documented thoroughly in print and on nature TV specials -- too cavalierly.

Treadwell frequently tread well inside the safety margin of bears' space, sang to bears, talked to them, apparently petted them and named them. He was both dedicated and foolish.

His thesis was that man and bears could co-exist in the same environment and that the bears wouldn't harm him once they got used to him. Some people were impressed. Others thought he was nuts. Eventually, Huguenard joined him on the sojourns.

People who live in bear country believe in common-sense protection, carrying guns, pepper spray, or both. Treadwell argued that unprovoked bears are not dangerous. In the end, Treadwell set up his camp along a frequently used bear path and bears killed and partially ate him and Huguenard.

It was not as if Treadwell failed to recognize the power of a 1,000-pound grizzly. On the very first page of his book, he wrote, "The grizzly bear is one of a very few animals remaining on earth that can kill a human in physical combat.

"It can decapitate with a single swipe, or grotesquely disfigure a person in rapid order. Within the last wilderness areas where they dwell, they are the undisputed kings of all beasts. I know this all very well. My name is Timothy Treadwell and I live with the wild grizzly."

Not anymore.

There's no telling what type of danger the new Disney cartoon movie "Brother Bear" will create if it convinces youngsters that bears are cute animals with human traits rather than the majestic, powerful, impressive beasts without consciences or complex vocabularies that they really are.

"Brother Bear" might be a wonderful film for children, but if kids walk away without comprehension of how bears really live and behave then they might become future Treadwells.

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