Grissly Bear Management Concepts Grizzly Bear Management









Social Aspects


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.

 In 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, California , 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.



Pictures of Grizzlies :circus posters, Yogi bear, “good” and “bad” bear pictures.


Grizzly 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 by Native 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

United 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 depredation).  Other 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 Rabinowitz 1996)

Mankind 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).


The 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.