By CRAIG MEDRED
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: October 9, 2003)
Among the last words Timothy Treadwell uttered to his girlfriend before a bear killed and partially ate both of them were these:
"Get out here. I'm getting killed.''
Words caught on a tape recording of the attack also reveal Treadwell's girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, shouting at him to play dead, then encouraging him to fight back.
Alaska State Troopers report that is what they heard on a videotape recovered Monday at the scene of a bear mauling in Katmai National Park and Preserve. The tape was in a camera found near the bear-buried remains of Treadwell, 46, and Huguenard, 37.
Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said there are no pictures on the tape, leading troopers to believe the attack might have happened while the camera was stuffed in a duffle bag or during the dark of night. Treadwell had talked to an associate in Malibu, Calif., by satellite phone around noon Sunday. He mentioned no problems with any bears.
The remains of the Southern Californians who periodically came to Alaska to live intimately with the bears were found the next day. A large but scrawny old bear with bad teeth that a pilot had seen sitting on the brush and dirt pulled over the bodies was shot and killed by National Park Service rangers at the scene after it charged them.
Troopers Wednesday refused requests to release the audiotape, but said it convinced them the two people had been killed by a bear. Speculation about whether a bear had actually done the killing had been fueled by Treadwell's oft-stated but unsubstantiated claim that he spent summers at Katmai to protect the bears from poachers and sport hunters.
"I'm their lifeguard,'' he told a reporter for The Davis (Calif.) Enterprise in 1999. "I'm there to keep the poachers and sport hunters away. I'm much more likely to be killed by an angry sport hunter than a bear.''
The Kaflia Bay area of Alaska's Gulf Coast -- where Treadwell spent most of his time in the state -- has long been closed to sport hunters, and Katmai rangers said there is no history of poachers killing bears in the area.
When bears die, they are usually killed by other brown bears, said park superintendent Deb Liggett, noting that 90 percent of the cubs each year are killed, and often eaten, by other brown bears. Adult bears sometimes kill each other there, too.
In this case, Wilkinson said, troopers are confident a bear was also responsible for killing the Malibu couple. Troopers are also convinced, he added, that the bear seen feeding on their bodies was the bear killed by Park Service rangers. There is no way, however, of knowing whether that bear or another shot by troopers at the scene did the actual killing.
The tape full of screams and rustling sounds details the attack, Wilkinson said, but adds little to explain exactly what happened or why. The tape, he said, lasts about three minutes. Scratching and dragging noises on it have led troopers to believe Treadwell might have been wearing a body mike when the attack began.
After Treadwell calls for help, Wilkinson said, Huguenard can be heard shouting "play dead.'' That is the recommended response to being grabbed by a brown or grizzly bear, but authorities stress the idea of playing dead should be abandoned if the bear continues to press the attack.
On the tape, shortly after the warning to "play dead,'' Wilkinson said, "Huguenard is heard to scream "fight back.'' Treadwell later yells "hit him with a pan,'' Wilkinson said.
After that, the tape goes dead. Because there are no pictures, troopers believe it is most likely the bear came in the night. The tent in which Treadwell and Huguenard had been camping showed no signs of being ripped open by a bear trying to attack people inside, but a friend of Treadwell's said it was common for him to leave the tent in the dark to confront bears that approached his camp.
"His way of operating was to get out of the tent immediately when he heard a bear around,'' Juneau filmmaker Joel Bennett said Wednesday. "He subscribed to the theory that the worst thing you could do was stay in the tent."
Bennett knew the flamboyant Treadwell well. Only two weeks before Treadwell's death they had spent weeks on Kodiak Island working on a Disney film about bears.
"You probably know that I've done three full-length films with him,'' Bennett said. "There's no question he had a remarkable repertoire with bears and had a remarkable ability for them to tolerate him ... (but) just so people don't get the wrong idea, Tim definitely knew there were bears out there that were bad medicine.
"This incident sounds to me like it had nothing to do with his work during the day to look at bears or photograph bears. It was a campsite situation.''
Dozens of scientists, bear guides and outdoor authorities who have spent their lives around Alaska's bruins have criticized Treadwell's daytime activities. The Californian had a seemingly overwhelming need to get close to bears.
"He was a strange dude,'' said Joe Darminio, a former guide at the Newhalen Lodge who used to take bear-viewing tourists to meet Treadwell. Many of the tourists, Darminio added, recognized Treadwell from television or his book, "Among Grizzlies -- Living with Wild Bears in Alaska.''
Opinions among the tourists were split on whether Treadwell's bear-stalking antics were crazy, but Darminio said there was agreement the blond Californian in the black Carhartt's with the bandana tied around his head like a pirate was entertaining.
It was hard to avoid being shocked or impressed by the fearless way he eased up to within feet of some of the most powerful predators on the continent. Treadwell said he could calm them by talking in his high-pitched sing-song voice and tell from their body language whether they posed any threat.
"He really was a Dian Fossey in that way,'' Bennett said. "She could have been killed by one swipe of a gorilla at any time. Dian Fossey got close to the gorillas. She touched them. Timmy did not encourage other people to do this. He says over and over in his films, 'Do not do this. Do not copy me.' It's obviously not something people should do, but it's something that he did."
Huguenard was exposed to Treadwell's daring antics at a grizzly bear presentation in Boulder, Colo. A graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine with a degree in molecular biology from the University of Colorado in Boulder, she knew trying to get close to brown bears was dangerous, but went along with Treadwell anyway.
"It was part of her life,'' sister Kathie Stowell told The Times' newspaper in their old hometown of Valparaiso, Ind. "They had a passion and that overrode everything.
"She definitely died, according to her, in the most beautiful, pristine place on earth.''
Reporter Elizabeth Manning contributed to this story. Daily News outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.