Ursa Major

Susan and I just finished watching Grizzly Man, the documentary by Werner Herzog on Timothy Treadwell who found his life’s calling — and death — living for months at a time among the grizzlies of the Alaskan peninsula’s Katmai National Park.

Treadwell first came to my attention in the ’90s when his book Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska was published. I ate it up and found him and his passion for the bears and nature very appealing. But even before he met his end at the claws and jaws of a bear, I knew there was something wrong with his campaign as some sort of self-appointed wildlife protector, and the movie makes a fine point of it: indigenous people of that region have co-existed with bears for thousands of years — at a distance. In a brief interview with an employee of an area museum, the young man doesn’t mince words in saying that he felt Treadwell was being disrespectful and ultimately doing more harm than good in habituating bears, (and other creatures such as foxes) to humans.

For as much as I wanted to defend Treadwell’s motives, I can’t help but agree. And where the book showed me a troubled man whose huge heart was in the right place, Herzog’s compelling documentary doesn’t negate that, but it does show me another side of Treadwell, one who wasn’t necessarily interested in minimizing his impact on his adopted world and whose heart was overruled by a sense of entitlement to do what he did regardless of the danger to himself or the bears about whom who cared so deeply.

Nature ultimately showed him that such entitlements are meaningless.