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Death in the Grizzly Maze: The Timothy Treadwell Story Paperback – 1 Apr 2005
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From the Back Cover
On the afternoon of Sunday, October 5, 2003, in Alaska's Katmai National Park, one or more brown bears killed and ate Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. The next day, park rangers investigating the site shot and killed two bears that threatened them; it was later determined that one of the bears had human flesh and clothing in its stomach. This chilling story immediately captured worldwide media attention, not only because of the horrific manner of Timothy and Amie's deaths, but also because Timothy was a well-known wildlife celebrity. His films of close-up encounters with grizzly bears he spent more than a dozen summers living with and videotaping giant bears in the Alaskan bush were the subject of television talk shows, movies, and books. But his work was not without controversy, and some bear experts felt that Treadwell's fatal encounter was a tragedy waiting to happen the result of the unorthodox tactics he used in his life among the bears. Death in the Grizzly Maze is the compelling account of Treadwell's intense life and dramatic death. Author Mike Lapinski chronicles Treadwell's rise from self-described alcoholic loser to popular grizzly-bear advocate. Lapinski explores how a waiter from Malibu, California, with no background in biology or wildlife science, came to be considered a bear expert. And he reveals the high cost of the current craze for wildlife celebrities and what it means for the future of wildlife conservation."
About the Author
Mike Lapinski is the author of eleven outdoor and nature books and hundreds of magazine articles. His photographs have appeared as inside and cover art in a variety of magazines and books. Mike is considered an expert on the use of bear pepper spray and often speaks on this subject, bears, and self-defense for nature lovers. He lives with his wife Aggie most of the year in Superior, Montana, close to grizzlies and grizzly country. While the bears are hibernating, Mike and Aggie live in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where Mike writes about jaguars, ocelots, and other wilderness animals of the Southwest.
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Treadwell lived around brown bears in Katmai (a national park in Alaska) for thirteen seasons in a row, somehow getting the wild bears to tolerate his presence. He became a national celebrity in the United States, claiming to defend the bears from poachers and other threats. In 2003, tragedy struck: Treadwell and his companion Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten by brown bears as they were camping in an area Treadwell called the Grizzly Maze.
Who was Timothy Treadwell? What motivated him to socialize at close distance with dangerous and potentially lethal animals? Could the tragedy of his and Amie's deaths have been avoided, or was it inevitable? Werner Herzog's award-winning movie "Grizzly Man" gives one answer, a rather disturbing one: Treadwell was out of his mind, wanted to cross the line between man and beast, and inevitably failed. Herzog even believes that Treadwell was driven by a death wish. Lapinski's book hints at another answer, perhaps an even more disturbing one: Treadwell was a hoax, a con artist whose primary goal was fame and celebrity status. However, he also has an alternative explanation: the frequently erratic behaviour of Treadwell was caused by bipolar disorder.
Although Lapinski isn't a big fan of Tim Treadwell, he nevertheless has a grudging respect for the man. He never accuses him of being a con man outright. Yet, after reading "Death in the Grizzly Maze", I must say that I veer strongly towards that option. Too many of Treadwell's claims just don't ad up. He claimed to defend the brown bears at Katmai against poachers, and even formed an organization in California to finance his activities. In reality, there are no poachers in Katmai, a national park visited by thousands of tourists every year. Indeed, all of Treadwell's encounters were with tourist guides, tourists, park rangers and competing movie makers. Once, Treadwell even faked evidence for poaching! Treadwell claimed he was carrying out unique research, but his book "Among grizzlies" contains nothing new, except numerous errors or old information taken from works by others. Treadwell also habitually misinformed sponsors and supporters about his activities at Katmai.
But how did Timothy Treadwell manage to survive so long among wild bears? Lapinski believes that the bears at Katmai are, relatively speaking, more peaceful and tolerant of humans than bears in others parts of Alaska or the United States. The Katmai bears aren't even "real" grizzlies, but rather brown bears (the same species but a different population). If Treadwell had tried to socialize with bears in the Rockies or the Alaskan inland, he would have ended up dead much sooner! The author also points out that the Katmai bears are well fed during the summer season, which also lowers rates of aggression. By the time the bears started to starve, Treadwell was usually long gone, having returned to California.
What strikes me most when reading "Death in the Grizzly Maze" is the absurdity of it all. Why didn't park authorities stop Treadwell immediately? Why was he allowed to continue his bizarre antics for 13 years? Why didn't any of his sponsors or supporters call a bear biologist or the park authority to check Treadwell's facts? Why didn't the media question him? (A silly question, I know.)
"Death in the Grizzly Maze" doesn't just raise disturbing questions about Timothy Treadwell. It also raises questions about ourselves. And that maze might be even more impenetrable.
It was a fast paced read with some interesting angles that hadn't been explored in Herzog's documentary (e.g., scientific community interviews, in-depth park service personnel interviews/details). However, much of Lapinski's analysis of Treadwell is based on conjecture, supposition, and speculation, with minimal citation at best. Moreover, there is also a fair amount of ancillary filler that pads the book (e.g., detailed information about the use of bear pepper spray, synopses of Grizzly Adams and other famous "bear people" that came before Treadwell).
Admittedly, some of this extraneous information is interesting in its own right. However, I can't help but consider the possibility that some of this "filler" became necessary when Jewel Palovak and other close associates of Treadwell stonewalled against being interviewed by Lapinski. Unlike Herzog (who was allowed to interview Palovak extensively), Lapinski seems to have been viewed as a potential threat by a number of Treadwell's former friends/associates, and was denied direct access to their personal anecdotes and recollections about Treadwell.
Hindsight would prove Palovak's assumption about Lapinski to be valid; the image that he portrays of Treadwell is much less neutral than that given by Herzog. Although he doesn't come out and directly say it, Lapinski seems to promote the idea that Treadwell was potentially a con artist whose bear activities were motivated out of self interest, rather than any real sense of stewardship for the bears of Katmai park.
Highlights of Lapinski's critical points include:
1) Skeptism toward Treadwell's self promoted claims of past alcohol and drug addictions -- the implication being that Treadwell had preconceived the idea that transcending chemical addictions and finding a calling as an "eco-warrior" protecting the Katmai brown bears would serve as a compelling story that would be lauded by the public.
2) Claim that the Grizzly People foundation (which Treadwell co-founded with Jewel Palovak) was primarily a front created to fund Treadwell's expeditions. (According to Lapinski, Hollywood stars, such Leonardo DiCaprio, donated significant sums of money to the organization).
3) Insinuation that Tredwell was aware that his claims of grizzly poaching in Katmai were false, but that he continued to promote this idea to maintain his status. In spite of an extensive amount of evidence that refuted Treadwell's claim, he continued to promote this idea in his public speaking, insisting that his main objective in Ketmai was to protect the bears from the continual threat of poaching.
4) Claim that Treadwell had opportunities to become involved in legitimate bear research activities, but ultimately preferred wildlife celebrity status vs. true agency for the brown bears of Katmai.
5) Theory that Treadwell suffered from Bi-Polar disorder, and that the "adrenaline rush" of being dangerously close to the bears served as a therapeutic process for Treadwell - helping him persevere through the "rock bottom" instances of depression that one experiences with this disorder.
Finally, Lapinski promotes the theory that Treadwell and his companion Amie Huguenard were actually killed by a juvenile bear, weighing approximately 300 pounds. After the killings, the juvenile bear was then chased away by the 1000 pound adult male grizzly, whose necropsy revealed it to be the primary consumer of Treadwell and Huguenard. Lapinski bases his theory on the 6+ minute audio recording of the attack, in which (at Treadwell's pleading) Huguenard is heard striking the bear on the head with a frying pan. According to Lapinski, had it been the large adult bear that had initiated the attack and done the killings, the process would have been finished quickly; it would not have dragged on for several minutes. While I find Lapinski's theory interesting, I feel the need to again give the caveat that there are large amounts of speculation in his deductions; he even goes so far as to present a detailed, story-like re-enactment that requires a serious "suspension-of-disbelief" on the part of the reader. I found this portion of the book to be a bit much...
However, I do applaud the choice by Lapanski to dedicate a full chapter to the life of Amie Huguenard. Unlike Herzog (who, after being denied an interview with Huguenard's parents, gives her only cursory coverage), Lapinski attempts to cobble together a portrait of her life. As Lapinski correctly points out, Huguenard's death is very often overshadowed by the plethora of coverage given to Treadwell; his chapter about Amie is, for all intents and purposes, a heart-felt eulogy that is worthy of praise.
Overall, in spite of its flaws, DEATH IN THE GRIZZLY MAZE wasn't a bad read; it definitely convinced me of the necessity to carry bear pepper spray in grizzly/black bear country! If I see a copy of at a rummage sale, I'll probably add it to my collection. However, I wouldn't pay retail price for the book.
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All of that said, if you're interested in bears and/or Treadwell...and I'm mildly interested in Treadwell and passionately interested in bears...this book is an easy read and a valuable one. Yeah the bear spray endorsement could have been left out, but I found it interesting, and for me at least, it settled the question of just how effective something coming out of a spray can could be in foiling a bear attack. Reading that information made me wish I would have had bear spray with me when I've hiked in grizzly country and caused me to resolve that I won't go into those areas again without it.
I have not read Treadwell's book although I probably should. I'm sure it's interesting, but the thing that holds me back is that I feel that, given Treadwell's kind of lose relationship with the truth, the reader needs to take his self-told story with a pretty critical eye.
By the way, I checked Patagonia's web site, as well as Grizzly People, and it appears that Patagonia no longer sponsors Grizzly People. With respect to Leonardo Dicaprio, it's difficult to tell. His web site doesn't mention the organization, although the Grizzly People site refers to sponsorship by DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way.
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