Thoughts on Pathologizing Timothy Treadwell (AKA Grizzly Man)
A Response to a June 5, 2022 Critique
A Response to “The Daily Stream: Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man Is A Sobering Reminder Of Our Place In The Natural World” in FILM (June 5, 2022)
By Jordan Schaul
I conducted fieldwork in the Grizzly Maze and after Timothy’s untimely death, served on the board of his nonprofit Grizzly People. I think this journalist’s effort to demonize and pathologize Treadwell is mischaracterizing, dehumanizing and shortsighted.
I’m very much a proponent of reducing human-wildlife conflict, promoting responsible tourism and conservation messaging. I served on the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, as an ex officio member of the council of the Int. Assoc. for Bear Research & Management and as a member of the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Perhaps I’m also a biased consumer of this editorial piece as someone who raised and “trained” orphaned Kodiak brown bears and knows the producers of the film.
That said, I’m also a proponent of helping people recover from childhood trauma and removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Treadwell was no more narcissistic or exploitative than others who find solace in nature and then somehow begin to see themselves as unrivaled ambassadors for the species they endeavor to protect. Do some of these people get a pass because they hold PhDs?
I don’t condone everything Timothy Treadwell did to earn the dubious title of “bear whisperer”, but if anything, I think Timothy’s diagnosis was very bad luck.
But if we condemn him, we’d have to vilify thousands of social media creators who get too close to nature and too uninhibited around dangerous animals in human care (e.g. big cats and bears) every single day. While conservation organizations wildlife agencies and accredited zoos and sanctuaries have made concerted efforts to minimize imagery that irresponsibly showcases wildlife in their care with handlers, keepers, and trainers, they have no control over those who chose not to do so.
Are these individuals recovered from childhood trauma and are free of personality adaptations simple because they weren’t eaten? Or should we avoid pathologizing our species for this conduct and look the other way at people who poach and trophy hunt?