The Grizzly Man


    A Malibuite since the early ’80s, Timothy Treadwell has played the role of the “Grizzly Man,” endearing himself to locals.

    In fact, Bill Sampson of the Optimists Club says, “He is one of the better things to happen to Malibu.”

    Treadwell, an environmental activist and accomplished photographer, was recently in Malibu conducting a fundraiser for his next trip to Alaska, where he goes every summer to study and work at protecting the grizzly bear.

    While in Alaska, Treadwell literally lives among the grizzly bears. A barren landscape, three times the size of Yellowstone, a minuscule tent, and a barrel of food supplies nearby is Treadwell’s home for four months every year. To most people, this would be a frightening experience, but to look back on Treadwell’s life, it can be easy to understand how he could do what he does.

    As a young man, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol and it was as he was lying on a hospital bed after a drug overdose, thinking he was dying, that he decided to take a 180-degree turn and make something out of his life.

    That he was passionate about bears was already known. He had confided in his best friend that he wanted to go “very far away,” if he survived, and “live among the wild animals.” His friend suggested Alaska, and so, the Timothy Treadwell legacy began.

    As the bears come out of hibernation, he is there to greet them. They have all been given names. Tabitha, his favorite who he rescued twice from poachers, Aunt Melissa, Saturn, Taffy, Booble, Downey, to name a few. Another, Quincy, who was near death after a summer that saw no salmon spawning in the Columbia River, miraculously came back to life. Treadwell does not feed the bears. He calls himself “their protector.” According to him, there are 30,000 grizzlies in existence and poachers kill 1,500 every year.

    The poachers come by plane and with guns aimed at the bears, Treadwell rushes to block their shots by stepping out and waving them off their targets. The bears are killed primarily for their paws, which are cut off and used in very expensive Asian meals, and their gallbladders, which are used for medicinal qualities. Pointing to laws in Alaska that allow hunters to take only a bear’s head and hide and leave the meat behind, Treadwell said to kill an animal and not consume it is evil.

    Treadwell considers himself a hard-core conservationist and feels that people should be inspired to conserve personally at home. “Our true problem is consumption and gas guzzling SUVs.”

    He says that the current president’s constituency wants jobs, fuel and income. Treadwell, however, feels it is a shame that animals have to suffer should oil drilling in Alaska proceed.

    “I will not rest,” he vows, “until the last grizzly bear is free from the harm of man.”

    Treadwell’s other overall mission is to educate people, especially young children, about bears and their habitat. He has lectured to 10,000 Malibu elementary and junior school children during the past 10 years.

    Treadwell said he tries to inspire children to stay in school and learn as much as possible about “Nature, art, geography and conservation.”

    Treadwell is considered a master at photographing these majestic creatures and making them accessible to children and grownups. He sells the prints in order to raise funds for his expeditions.

    Peter and Sarah Dixon of Broad Beach, who are television writers and producers, saw Treadwell’s photography work in ’93 and together they created “In the Land of the Grizzlies,” a documentary for the National Audubon Society in 1995.

    In talking to him, it is evident that he does not like the “business” side of his life, but he mentioned that he has several benefactors or “angels.” One such angel is Robert Towne, a former Malibu resident, who wrote “Chinatown” and has worked on many movies.

    “The people [of Malibu] are very wonderful and kind and extremely successful, which helped me to rise to their level,” says Treadwell of his local friends.

    Treadwell has written “Among Grizzlies; Living With Wild Bears in Alaska,” with Jewel Palovak in 1999. He is currently working on a children’s book and just produced his sixth documentary for the Discovery Channel, which aired in May. He also appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman” in February and has even named one of the bears he regularly sees in Alaska “Letterman.” He lectures extensively and has recently spoken to groups at the Sierra Club, The Sea Shepherd Society and Heal The Bay.