Activist died doing what he loved

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A memorial service for Timothy Treadwell, who died from a bear attack last week in Alaska, will take place at 3 p.m. on Monday at Granita restaurant in Malibu.

By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times

“I don’t want my remains found by the public. I don’t want it known that I am killed by a bear. The greatest disservice I could do the bears is to die at the paws of one. It would reinforce the ‘bearanoia’ that could result in getting those bears killed.”

So said Malibu author, photographer and lecturer Timothy Treadwell to photojournalist Bill Beebe in 1994, seven years before he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed by a grizzly at their remote campsite in Alaska 11 days ago.

However, park rangers recovered the bodies and sent them to the state medical examiner’s office to be identified, killing two grizzlies in the process.

How Treadwell probably died was revealed on a shocking three-minute audio track on a video recorder-just the day before the couple were to be airlifted out of their camp in the 4.7-million-acre Katmai National Park, 100 miles from the nearest town.

On that tape, Treadwell, clearly being mauled by the bear, is heard screaming to Amie: “Come out here, I’m being killed out here.”

At first she shouted, “play dead,” following Treadwell’s formula for pacifying an angry bear. When that didn’t work, Treadwell, who never carried a weapon into the wilderness, is heard yelling for her to bring a pan and hit the animal. Then, as the tape ran out, silence.

Dean Andrew, owner of Kodiak’s Andrew Airways, which provided both Treadwell’s wilderness transportation and an informal postal address, said in a recent interview: “The morning of the pick-up, there was no call. That was a red flag.” The pilot discovered the bodies and called authorities.

The National Park Service, which supervises the preserve where Treadwell had camped since last June, has been long concerned about Treadwell spending summers in intimate proximity with grizzlies.

“He was breaking every park rule that there was, in terms of distance to the bears, harassing wildlife and interfering with natural processes,” Tom Smith, a research ecologist with the Alaska Science Center of the U.S. Geological Service, told the Los Angeles Times. “His personal mission was at odds with the park service. He had been warned repeatedly. It’s a tragic thing, but it’s not unpredictable.”

From his writings (among them, the best-selling book “Among Grizzlies”), it seems clear that Treadwell believed that, even if his life should end tragically, it was worth the sacrifice if the wildlife would, through his efforts, be better respected and honored. To this end, he lectured extensively, especially to children, and took innumerable photographs and videos of bears, seals, and foxes (among which, a local fox named Timmy would follow him like a pet dog).

“He died doing what he loved,” said Jewel Palovak, program director for Grizzly People, Treadwell’s educational foundation, who spoke with him via satellite phone only hours before the attack. “If he had to pick a way to do it, it would be that way. He always knew they were wild animals and he accepted them on those terms.”

A memorial service will take place at 3 p.m. on Monday at Granita restaurant. But Treadwell’s life and work are already being honored by many friends. Among them are local and national celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, a major individual supporter of Treadwell’s foundation, who commented to The Malibu Times: “We at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation are honored to have been able to assist Timothy in fulfilling his dream and living his passion.”

Timothy’s father, Valentine Dexter of Pompano Beach, Fla., e-mailed: “Our son Timothy lived his passion. He will be missed by many for all the good he tried to do for his beloved bears and for the children in his teaching.” (Timothy was born Timothy Dexter and legally changed his name in the early 1980s).

And from Peter Dixon, who, with his wife, Sarah, made a documentary with Treadwell in 1995, came the following: “While it’s understandable that park rangers would be uneasy about Timothy’s ways with bears, there are a number of naturalists and cinematographers who regard Timothy with great respect. I use the present tense because although he is dead, he is alive in the hearts of those who supported and worked with him.”

Perhaps Dr. Rosemarie White, president of The Canada Goose Project said it best: “He was truly a remarkable person with a gift that really could not be explained; he was magical,” she wrote. “A good friend of his, Terry Taminen from the conservation agency Environment Now, said to me this morning, ‘You can’t mourn a life which was so well lived.’ That is true. Timothy had found his passion. He will leave a legacy of respect and appreciation for wildlife and wild places in the hearts of every person, young and old, who heard him speak.”