Feb 21, 2017

The Grizzly Maze

Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears
by Nick Jans

I found this book at a library sale. It reminded me of a documentary I saw years ago, featuring a guy who lived among the bears in Alaska. I think it was "Grizzly Man." I remember being impressed by the closeup footage of wild bears (and foxes), puzzled and baffled at the man's rambling commentary. It was obvious he was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about his work with the bears, but he also appeared a bit mentally unstable to me. At the end of it my companion and I turned to each other and surmised that this guy was probably going to end up killed by a bear.

He was. I read some reports of it online and then forgot about the incident until I found this book. Here journalist Nick Jans writes about Timothy Treadwell's past, his engrossing interest in bears and his thirteen-year long project living among them in the wild. While he took meticulous notes on the bears' behavior and relationships, he wasn't at all scientific about it. He claimed he was there to protect them from poachers (bears in Alaska have stable, high numbers and are statistically not in any danger) and deliberately camped right in the middle of the busiest area where bears gather for food in late summer and fall. He refused to use any devices that would deter bears from approaching, instead trusting that they would sense his love and not harm him. And according to accounts of people who spent time helping him with his film projects, he was adept at reading the grizzlies' body language, knowing when it was safe to approach a bear, or wise to keep a distance from another. But it's clear that he put himself in harm's way and it was only a matter of time.... 

It reminds me quite a bit of Into the Wild (I'm not the only one to make that connection). The longing for a connection to wildlife, yet going into it all relatively unprepared... with a tragic result.

The book includes a lot of interviews with people who knew Treadwell, bear experts, members of the park service who had to deal with him, responders who went to the site when the attack occurred and other people who have strong opinions about what Treadwell was doing. (He spent summers with the bears, and in the winter travelled around giving talks to schoolchildren about bears- some say spreading misinformation- and he had an animal-rights organization called Grizzly People). There's an entire chapter or two of speculation about what actually happened in the moments of the attack. Mostly it's a big question: why did everything lead up to this, and how can we prevent it from happening again. Final chapters detail bear attack statistics (the facts are not what you might expect) and recommendations on what to do if you happen to meet a bear yourself.

A very interesting read and well-written to boot. 

Rating: 3/5       274 pages, 2005

more opinions: Bookfoolery

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I cans't imagine putting yourself in harm's way like that. The book sounds fascinating to me.