Animal Studies Bibliography

Brunner, Bernd. 2007.  Bears: A Brief History.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

(Summarized by Meghan Charters and Stephanie Pittman, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)

            Bernd Brunner's Bears is an exploration of how bears have coexisted with human beings since the beginning of our existence. The question of our coexistence has been question over time – Were we descendants of bears? Did we share common living quarters?

            Chapter one, Tracking the Paths of Bears , details the eight species of bears currently recognized by modern scientists. The brown bear, American black bear, Asian black bear, sloth bear, sun bear, great panda, and the polar bear are what derived from one common ancestor, Ursavus (Dawn bear). Described as once having been the size of a small terrier, over time groups of dawn bears went their separate ways. Some adapted to differences in climate, changing environment, and threats posed by other species, while others lived short lives and died off. It was at this time that many of our present day species evolved.

            The remaining portion of chapter one focuses on the categorization of bears over time. Where we are taught easy classification methods from the moment we enter Science class in primary school, early day scientists and philosophers had limited knowledge by with which to classify the animal kingdom. Early works by Aristotle, Albertus Magnus, Conrad Gessner, and Johann Ridiger each took different approaches – dividing animals between vertebrates and invertebrates, classifying bears as brown, black, and white, isolating between primary bears and stone bears, and lastly a novel approach where by bears were considered different in looks solely based on their age.

After this early movement, better classified as trial and error, scientists took more detailed approaches. They began to distinguish between size and color, noting the extreme size of the grizzly and how it could not be classified in the same category as other bears. At the time, due to its size and fierce looks, naturalist George Ord assigned the taxonomic name Ursus horribilis to the monolithic creature. Unfortunately, this assignment created great stigma and fear, thus demonizing the grizzly and nearly driving it to extinction in many areas. This is one upsetting example of how human meddling – the need to classify animals in general – has created false fear in the minds of humans with regard to animal identity.

Chapter two, Transformations , focuses on the relationship early humans had with bears. Until science examined the connection between people and apes, it was assumed for many generations that people were linked with bears. Early human myths portray a heavy reliance on bears in both a mental and spiritual way. It lends credence to the idea that humans were once one with nature, unlike the present where we view ourselves as dominant over nature. This dominance came to light with the dawn of Christianity rebuking pagan belief. Where pagan people practiced reverence and kinship with nature, Christianity spoke of saints saving people from the worship of nature and becoming ‘owner' of nature.

Bears have played many roles for people over time – we identify with them because we see ourselves in them. Native Americans throughout history have passed on stories of human-bear transformation. Many tribes believe their tribesmen became bears or bears were their forefathers – the oddity is that this rarely kept them from hunting bears. Some tribes refused to hunt or eat bears due to their similarities, while others identified them as a totem, a symbol worth respect and worship. Bears have also lent themselves to common folklore. Stories of feral children, fairytales instructing children to beware of the dangers in life, and of course the continuing concept that people could become animals.

In chapter three, The Mystery of the Cave Bear, Brunner explores the existence of the cave bear and the possible coexistence of people and bears. While the last cave bear lived well over ten thousand years ago (pp. 37) evidence from their lives has filtered down to present day scientists, researchers, and biologists, many of whom postulate that the lives of cave bears and humans were intertwined. Upon excavation of caves, evidence of bear and people bones/remnants suggests that at some point bears and humans utilized the same caves at different times. However, it is questioned whether or not the bones of cave bears ended up in their established location due to prime domicile during the winter or being carried in by humans.

 Other theories about coexistence between humans and bears is that humans preyed on cave bears for food, shelter and clothing, weaponry, and tools, and thus the “cave-bear hunter culture” arose. Some researchers, however, have found it difficult to support this theory in that evidence exists in very isolated cases. Brunner ends the chapter by questioning why the sudden disappearance of cave bears occurred. Was it related to the arrival of more modern humans? Was it a lack of change to environment? Were they unable to evolve past a specific point? Brunner believes the answer lies between human and nonhuman causes.

Lastly, chapter four, False Steps, discusses the depictions of bears, in history, throughout the world. Typically animals have been portrayed in a relatively realistic light in cave paintings and old books; however, bears were repeatedly depicted in a disproportionate manner. They have been described as drawn with large paws, pointed ears, and an awkward posture. In reality they have the capability to move quickly and are quite agile.

Other unfortunate falsifications lie within the theories on hibernation and mating. It appears as though much guesswork was done from the time of Pliny the Elder (in 23-79 A.D.) to around 1882 when G. Herbst suggested the concept of delayed implantation and the bears ability to reabsorb the egg, thus preventing birth. As for hibernation, the ways in which studies have been done in the past arrange from stories on watching a bear eat a plant to a physician (Adolph W. Otto) holding a bear captive to observe him. While the latter is barbaric, the conclusions are also unfounded because bears, like other animals, do not act the same way in captivity as they do in the wild.

Presently we know that brown bears spend up to four months in a resting state during the winter. We understand that their pulse slows and their overall body temperature cools allowing them to use up less energy (less stored food) and sleep for prolonged periods of time. What research has uncovered more recently is that sleeping bears build bone matter at a higher rate, as well as losing only a quarter of their muscle strength during their hibernation period. Observations of this magnitude allow research to expand in areas such as treatment for human osteoporosis.

Exotic Discoveries

As new lands were explored, new bears were discovered. To date, the most beloved bear species to be found has been the Panda, a native of southern China. Numerous contradictions exist surrounding the actual time frame the Panda was discovered. This was due to descriptions of animals that were found having similar coloring or body type to the Panda (white fox, leopard, or polar bear) and the lack of documentation in Chinese Materia Medica which was a collection of medical knowledge from 1597 that described the various healing powers possessed by nearly every part of every animal (64). The panda bear was missing from this book. This is perhaps due to the special religious significance held by the bear and its lack of use in medical purposes. In 2005, a 4000 year old grave in central China uncovered human skeletal remains and a panda jaw bone, proving that pandas have been around for a long time (65). Father Armand David, a French missionary and naturalist set out to discover the panda in 1869, with the help of zoologist Sir Henry Milne-Edwards. They conducted tests on the remains of a panda they had killed and learned of the animal's dietary preferences and habitat (66). The panda quickly became “one of the world's most coveted trophies” (66) and thus hunting trips to Sichuan, China increased despite the dangers posed to hunters by the indigenous people (Lolos). The sons of President Roosevelt even participated in these panda hunts. After exhausting their financial resources and being confronted with inaccessible areas in the mountains as well as dangerous indigents; the hunters used the bear excrement and tracks in the snow to locate the bears (67). With the help of the local Lolos, the Roosevelt brothers successfully killed a panda. News of the successful hunt spread throughout the world, and the bear was stuffed and exhibited in Chicago's Museum of Natural History (68). An increased interest in panda pelts lead to the potential for the mammal becoming extinct, creating a shift to “capturing” rather than “killing” the bear. In 1937, the first panda living in captivity was exhibited at the Chicago Zoo (68). The panda become known over the next few decades as the symbol for all endangered species (i.e. WWF). The actual number of panda bears in the wild is often underestimated due to their timidity and wariness, making it difficult to locate and count them accurately (69). It was thought that there were about 1,590 pandas in central and southern China, that number is now believed to be closer to 2,500-3,000. Despite the increase in numbers, the panda is still a species in need of protection.


Bears in Africa? Originally, it was thought bears were not in Africa, but remnants of bear skulls, and historical statements conclude that this is likely untrue (71-72). In the 1990s, carbon-dating was used to show that the bones of a small bear found in the Djurdjura cave dated back to 420-600 A.D. But, by the middle of the 19 th century, the bears had disappeared, and this still remains largely a mystery. It is thought that the destruction of their environment was a key factor, as the forests gave way to lumber harvesting and grazing land for sheep and goats (74). An Arabian fable suggests that the bears were coerced by a monkey named Maimon, which led them to a desert where they died from the heat.


The Bear's Personality

Throughout history, naturalists, scientists and others have described the bear's personality in various ways, some even conducting animal psychological experiments. The bears seem to have a “kaleidoscopic” personality, where some say they are ferocious, dull-witted, spiritless, unpredictable and deceitful, while others suggest they are intelligent, good-natured, fearless, majestic and skilled hunters (77-84, 89). The dangerousness of the bear did not detract from the fascination people had of them. Ludwig Heck, the director of the Berlin Zoo suggests that the bears “serve as a caricature of mankind, as our own distorted reflection” (85). The more accurate depiction of bears came later in history when the bears were observed in the wild as opposed to in confinement (87). The human characteristics that have been bestowed on the bears over time have left many contradictions as to the real essence of the bear, creating at times false impressions of the animal (89).



Sounds, Senses, Signals

Bears fall into the category of animal that make vocal noises. While they do not “talk” like humans, they do have noises and articulated sounds they make that have been associated with various behaviors and or moods (91). The study of a baby polar bear in 1931, looked to record and identify, the various vocal utterances by bears; and their possible meanings (93). Thus far, there are 5 types of bear sounds identified by wildlife experts. These include the “roar”, which is produced when the bear is angry, coerced or fighting; the “moan” or “sigh” which indicates frustration or unhappiness; deep swallowing sound by a mother bear to her cubs indicating potential danger and they should hide; teeth clicking which indicated danger or fear; and a popping/blowing sound which is used to frighten off people and other animals (97). Other sounds have been identified by naturalists, but are controversial as they were discovered with extensive human contact to orphaned bear cubs. This could potentially alter the “true” behavior of the bear. The olfactory senses of the bear are extraordinary, and play a significant role in the lives of bears. They are able to send olfactory messages to other members of the bear population via their urine, feces and body scent (97). Bears can identify another bear's age, sex and sexual receptivity. The theories on why bears scent mark trees include: marking their territory (98), awareness of the presence of others (99), signaling the presence of food (99), and to follow travel paths of previous bears (100). The acuteness of the bear's senses brings about the importance of human interaction and influence on bear behavior. A study in the mountains of Slovenia and Croatia saw how the behavioral patterns of the young and old bears were different, possibly due to the older bear's knowledge and interaction with humans for years (100). The older bear's had become predominately nocturnal and very shy. Studies in North America revealed that in places where there is little human activity or non-aggressiveness of humans, the bears will return to being diurnal (active in daytime) and giving up nocturnal habits altogether (101).

Bears as Pets

The “domestication of bears”, came about during the 18 th and 19 th centuries due to orphaned cubs (mother killed in hunt), for the amusement of the people who kept them, and as furry living dolls or playmates for children (103-104). There are reports that this phenomena is not restrictive to America or recent centuries. Bears living with humans and being petted in ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D., being used as workers for water pumps, house guards, and good haulers from 1490-1558. Accounts of bears being ridden as horses (1676-1747) and being fed local food by humans was not uncommon (106-107). The Ainu women of Japan were responsible for raising captured bears, and frequently nursed them (108). Bears raised by humans, do not necessarily benefit when they reach adulthood. Besides, losing the ability to search for food in the wild, after being fed by humans; the relationship with their human “parent” is often strained due to violent outbursts by the bear (111-112). In societies where bears were raised as pets, once the bear reached about the age of 4, or when it starting having behavioral problems; the bear was often killed or used in rituals. The closest domestication of bears came from the inhabitants of eastern Siberia, and the bear taming practices of the Gilyaks (113). The practices implemented in Siberia would have likely been successful, if not for the bear's inability to breed in captivity. Once animals are domesticated, certain behavioral traits manifest in the genes of these animals creating a sort of “tameness” (113). In Southeast Asia, the Malay (Sun) bear is a prime example of what happens when bears are domesticated. The bears can now exclusively be found in the market places for sale, doomed to a live in cages. They are no longer part of the gene pool, and cut off from the wilderness, they are essentially “dead” from an environmental perspective (114). Due to the demand and tourism in Asia, bear meat and especially paws are hot commodities, with various parts of the bear being used for medicinal purposes (114-115).

An Observer in Eastern Siberia

In the Amur region of eastern Siberia, is an area known for its colorful bear population and bear festival (117). The bear festival involves jubilation, dancing, shouting, eating and 3 unlucky bears. Throughout the ceremony, the bears would be paraded around the village, from house to house over a period of a few days. The ceremony ended with the death of the bears and an ensuing feast upon their meat and fat throughout the remainder of the festival (118-121). The heads and skins of the bears were hung and decorated with amulets, toads, and beads (123). A western observer of the festival noted the contradictory attitudes felt by the people toward the bears, as it was “partly motivated by the desire to honor a powerful predator and partly by superstitious fear of him and his revenging spirits” (122). The guilt and responsibility of killing the bears is not felt by the people, but deflected to the toads placed on the eyes of the dead bears to dry the welling tears. Toads are evil spirits and are responsible for the capture, killing and eating of the bears (121-122).

Face to Face

The fascination held by some, is of coming face to face with such a powerful animal, and perhaps testing our strength against it. Besides being terrifying, it can also be quite memorable. The various encounters and stories told of bear confrontations have gave way to the claims that bears “will never back down” when faced with a human (129). Determining a bear's state of mind is nearly impossible as it is among the least expressive land animals. The immobility of the bear's face reveals little about its mental state, leaving only the ears, eyes, and nose to provide clues as to its mood (129). The “warning” signs given by a bear include gnashing its teeth and roaring. Other popular beliefs of bears include its distinctive fighting style, where the bear “bear hugs” his opponent, crushing him to death or the relentless pursuit of a hunter that has wounded them (130-131). The fighting style, bears targeting women who are menstruating (131-132) and crossover rule of male bears attacking female victims, and vice versa (132). Although, some stories told reflect these beliefs to be true, they are not unsubstantiated by scientific evidence to date (133). Bears can be dangerous, but usually only when wounded, hungry, suddenly awakened/startled, or if a mother feels her cubs are threatened (132). The most notable location for bear/human lethal conflicts is in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India where from 1989-1994, 48 people died. These deaths are due to the small, nocturnal, sloth bear (133-134). In North America, from 1900-1980, 41 people were killed by bears and from 2000-2005, 7 people have been killed. The increase in attacks has been due to people encroaching on the bear's habitat. Currently there are about 900,000 black bears and 60,000 grizzly bears in North America, where the grizzly is far more dangerous to humans (135). The fatal attacks by black bears have been found to be by males and of a predatory nature, while grizzlies are usually female bears and are in defense of their cubs. Polar bears in Alaska have killed humans only twice, such a low number due to their small population. If faced with a potential attack, one should fight back with all one's might with anything in hand, and hit the bear on the nose, then, instead of running away, start shouting and throwing objects at the bear or run towards it to try and drive it away (137). Park rangers often suggest lying face down on the ground with your arms around your neck, and remaining still (138).To avoid a potentially dangerous situation, making your presence known in the forest to the bears is important. Whistling, shouting, talking, etc. will alert the bear to your presence (137). Foods with strong odors should be carried in airtight containers and hung overnight in bear-proof containers. If you see a bear, stay at least 50 yards from it, and twice as far if it is a mother bear with cubs. Essentially, most of the time a bear is less interested in us humans, than we are in them and we are unlikely to encounter a bear in the first place (138-139).


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