Bears, and grizzly bears in particular,
occupy a unique place in the human psyche.
Bears are big animals that can eat us.
But, bears are unique in part because bears are human-like,
being able to stand on two legs, having it’s eyes and face pointing
forward, lacking a noticeable tail, and eating many of the same
foods people do. Yet, because bears are also unlike people,
in that they are huge, able to do things we can not, like kill
a moose bare-handed or lift heavy logs and rocks (like Disney’s
Baloo in the Jungle Book),
we mere humans see them as something
bigger than life. Precisely
because bears are bigger than life, there area wide range of attitudes
associated with bears. These
attitudes range from respect and worship to fear and hatred.
We see bears as a being we can relate to and yet cannot
understand. The bear is perceived as a positive role model
by Native American cultures, the Norse Berserkers, and even in
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
, as the were-bear Beorn (and Tyler 1976).
Various Native American cultures revered the bear (photos
of bear artifacts), because of its power and link to nature (Kellert
et al 1996).
A number of Native American tribes
have tales talking about bears.
A common theme among several tribes is the Bear-Mother
and the bringing about of mankind or clan from the marriage of
a maiden (either human or spirit) and a bear giving birth to a
bear with sharp teeth like the picture below (Erdoes and Ortiz
1984, Thompson 1966, Shepard and Sanders 1985).
The Blackfoot tribe of Montana
would not hunt bears, preferring to starve rather than eat bear
meat (Kellert et al 1996).
The Flathead tribe, also of Montana,
believed the bear would bring strong medicinal powers to the Shaman
(Kellert et al 1996). There is a Pawnee story, “The Grizzly Bear’s
Medicine” (Grinnell 1901) tells the story of the power of the
grizzly bear and its link between man and nature. In the Koyukon of northern Canada
women are not allowed to see, eat, touch or even talk of bears.
A similar belief paralleling the
Pawnee story is that of the Norse berserkers of the Viking Age
(Bronsted 1983). They believed they gained supernatural powers from the skin of the
animal they wore and, often wearing nothing else, would work himself
into a frenzy. (The movie The 13th Warrior
is Hollywood’s fanciful
version of a whole tribe of bear berserkers.
Usually the berserkers would go berserk on the battlefield
and only a few people would do so, not a whole tribe.)
Bronsted (1983) indicated berserkers were in special military
formations during battles, working each other up into a battle-frenzy
and fighting against the Roman legions’ square formations is what
kept the Romans from advancing further north in Europe.
modern times people still try to take on the power of the bear
by using them as mascots. The
grizzly or brown bear represents Russia,
, Missouri and
Montana. A number of schools have grizzly bears as their
mascots, like University
of Montana, University
of California-Berkley, and UCLA
(a Bruin is a Bear) Click here for more links (Franks
1982). Some military units also
use the grizzly bear as a mascot.
Finally Smokey Bear
has been the USFS fire prevention mascot since 1944.
of Grizzlies :circus posters, Yogi bear, “good” and “bad” bear
bears have provided us with entertainment, ranging from circuses
to zoos to the Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi Bear in Jellystone Park (Shepard
and Sanders 1985, Schullery 1980, Kellert et al 1996). The grizzly bear has been featured in songs
Americans as well as a
prison work song. In the prison work song the grizzly bear is
seen as something to be overcome.
The grizzly bear was seen as something to be overcome by
early American settlers, albeit in a very different way (Kellert
et al 1996). The settler’s attitude towards grizzly bears
as an obstacle or something to fear or be gotten rid of is the
opposite of the Native American or Early European attitude (Kellert
et al 1996). These settler’s beliefs eventually lead to
the wide scale persecution of the grizzly across the
States, and its extermination
from much of its original range in the 48 contiguous states (original
and present range). These
negative attitudes towards the grizzly bear are mainly rooted
in the economic (or perceived economic) impact on ranchers and
farmers livelihood (livestock
impacts are the emotional aspects of losing animals the rancher/farmer
has raised either for production (cattle, goats, pigs) or as pets
(dog, cat). Similar attitudes
are aimed at wolves and mountain lions in the United
States (Kellert et al 1996)
and towards large carnivores throughout the world (e.g. lions,
leopards, cheetah, hyena, tigers, and jaguars).
(Bantsi pers. comm., Engelbrecht pers. comm., Weber and
uses bear body parts today for a variety of spiritual and medicinal
purposes. The gall bladder is used for traditional Asian
medical purposes (It is used to treat hemorrhoids, indigestion
and fever as well as other afflictions.), the paws are prized
as a delicacy and the meat is expensive (Poten 1991, Wang 1989).
In 1989 on Taiwan various bear parts would sell for in
1989 US $: Whole bear $727 -$7,27; gall bladder $363-$1454; bear
paw $181-$363; bear meat $34/kg; and bear hides $305 (Wang 1989).
average annual income on Taiwan
in 1989 was US$4,630 during this time (Wang 1989). This explains why the aboriginal people of the island would hunt
the native Taiwanese bears; why there are so few on the island,
and finally, why there is an ongoing illegal trade in bear parts.
(Poten 1991, Wang 1989). For
more information on poaching in the US
read Game Wars.