April 28, 2006

Grizzly Guys

After his book Grizzly Years came out, Doug Peacock became one of the nation's best-known experts on grizzly bears. So it was probably inevitable that he would be asked to comment on the case of Timothy "Grizzly Man" Treadwell, previously mentioned here and here.

Not being a regular reader of Outside, I missed it. A couple of excerpts:

Treadwell's methods of chumming up to grizzlies, however, were considered unsound by much of the bear-research community. He gave the bears names like Mr. Chocolate and Booble. He filmed himself chanting, "I love you, I love you," as he inched up to a grizzly. Scientists belittled him for his anthropomorphizing. Mainstream researchers either cautioned Treadwell that his behavior would put bears and humans at risk or dismissed him as a loon. Even his friends worried—they thought he should carry bear spray. But after blasting one charging bear, Cupcake, with pepper spray in 1995, Treadwell refused.

Peacock discusses the case with one of the most senior bear researchers, Lance Craighead, who goes against the conventional appraisal of Treadwell:

Home in Montana, I went to see my friend Lance Craighead, one of the preeminent grizzly biologists working today. We lamented the loss—of Treadwell, of Huguenard, of the bears. We couldn't help but like this guy who punched out as he'd wanted to, who'd told people he would be honored to "end up in bear scat," though we agreed that he'd camped in terrible places and gotten way too close to bears. Still, Treadwell may have contributed a significant chapter to the study of grizzly behavior. "His legacy," Craighead said, "may well prove that he did a lot more good for bears than any short-term harm."

Ultimately, Peacock concludes that Treadwell had ten lucky years with bears, and then his luck ran out.

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