Grizzly bears are arguably the most significant animal threat to humans in North America. Unlike my homeland, South Africa, where the man eating predators are almost exclusively confined to areas where people are safe from them, many national parks in North America allow campers and hikers to explore areas where bears roam freely in the wild.
Grizzly means golden haired, but a famous pun was institutionalized by naturalist George Ord when he classified them, “not for their looks but for their grisly character,” as he averred. “Grisly” means “causing horror,” so Ord classified the mainland Grizzly as urcas arctos horribilis, or “horrible American bears.” The mainland grizzly is the largest and most aggressive species in America. They grow to be over 360kg. And at 2 meters tall and 1 meter wide they are the dimensional equivalent of meaty, man-eating, Ford Fiesta.
These deceptively docile-looking fuzzy creatures are notorious for their dexterity at killing humans with a casual swat, but then also feasting on the carcass. Since they can move faster than the average cyclist, there is no use trying to outrun them. Your best defense (apparently), should you have the unhappy privilege of encountering one in the wild, is to lie in a fetal position, play dead, and hope its not hungry.
Unless you are Timothy Treadwell.
Treadwell was nicknamed the Grizzly Man. He spent a total of 13 months, or 35,000 hours in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, living with bears. He captured some of the most intimate and spectacular footage of grizzlies. Over time the bears began to accept him in their presence. He could walk right up to them and stroke them like a domestic pet, something no other human being has captured on film. Treadwell was not afraid of the bears, nor were they afraid of him. And that became a problem. The park officials viewed him as “misguided at best, and at worst, dangerous.” They were concerned that his example could lead others to believe the bears were harmless, and venture to approach them. All other bear experts agreed that the grizzlies were still wild, still dangerous, and that Treadwell was treading on thin ice by being near them. And the experts were right. Continue Reading…