Bear With Me
The author of “The Grizzly Maze” on Timothy Treadwell.
When Grizzly People founder Timothy Treadwell appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2001 the host quipped, “Is it one day going to happen [that] we read a news article about you being eaten by one of these bears?” The studio audience howled but Letterman proved to be prophetic. On October 6, 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked and eaten by a grizzly bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. The irony of the world’s most visible bear advocate being mauled and consumed by a grizzly was not lost on the media, and the incident became a national news story. Adding to the intrigue is that Huguenard switched on the couple’s camcorder just as the attack got underway, so most of the six-minute-plus incident was captured on audiotape, yielding clues but no definitive answers as to how and why Treadwell and Huguenard were killed.
Not surprisingly, Treadwell’s story has already spawned two books (“The Grizzly Maze” by Nick Jans/Dutton and “Death in the Grizzly Maze” by Mike Lapinski/Globe-Pequot) and a documentary film (Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog/Lions Gate), all of which present Treadwell in their own unique way. Of the three, Jans does the most balanced and thorough job of chronicling the adventures of a man who was controversial in life and even more famous and controversial after death.
Failure recently spoke with Jans—a native Alaskan and experienced outdoor writer/photographer—to get the inside scoop on Treadwell and how the media’s treatment of the story may impact grizzly bears.
Do you remember what went through your mind when you first heard about Treadwell’s death?
I had just gotten back from a long trip in the Brooks Range [in Northern Alaska] and my editor at Alaska magazine called me and said, “Timothy Treadwell is dead. What should we do?” I said, “Get me out there.” It was instantaneous. I knew it was going to be a very large story.
What was your first impression of the scene of the crime?
It looked so eerily like everyplace else I had ever been [in bear country]. There was nothing ominous about it. It was akin to walking down a sidewalk and coming to a street corner and someone tells you that two people were gunned down there.