No, bears are not friendly. One thing all bears have in common is that they’re solitary creatures and aren’t sociable, except for when mating or when mothers are raising their cubs.
Experts studying bears think their intelligence surpasses that of dogs. That’s evident in how bears form hierarchies or tolerate and even mentor young unrelated bears. Yet, despite all their smarts, bears are shy and retiring animals who’d much rather spend their time foraging or hunting than making friends.
Do not approach a bear in the wild. Doing so might cause it to harm you, or, become overly familiar with humans, which will put people at risk in the future.
Can Bears and Humans Be Friends?
People inspired by characters like ‘Baloo’ from the Jungle Book or ‘Winnie the Pooh’ may think bears can be trained to be friends, but that’s not the case. For example, consider Timothy Treadwell’s cautionary tale.
Timothy Treadwell tried to live among coastal brown bears to prove they were friendly. But, he was eventually killed by a bear.
A bear spends most of its life moving from habitat to habitat, searching for sustenance like plants, insects, fruits, etc. So, there is likely no concept of attachment of any kind, even among members of the same species.
That’s why a human-bear friendship along the lines of what one observes with canines or other domesticated pets is unlikely. The act of domestication was a gradual process and isn’t something anyone can manage with increased interaction with bears for a few decades.
Related Article: Mutualism vs Commensalism
Can Bears Imprint on Humans?
Yes, bears can imprint on humans, meaning the bear comes to see a human as a family member. In these cases, there appears to be some affection between the bear and human.
Nevertheless, this is a big danger, because as with Timothy Treadwell, you can spend a long time familiar with bears before one decides to attack you one day.
Bears are wild at heart and can never be trusted in the same way we might trust a docile dog from a long lineage of domestication.
Thus, while the bear and human may appaer ‘friendly’, the degree of friendship is not clear, and there’s always the risk that the bear may attack suddenly, showing no remorse.
Here is footage of one bear who appears to show affection to his keeper:
Should you be Friendly with a Bear?
Rangers spend a great deal of time discouraging humans and bears from interacting. If bears interact too much with humans and become too friendly, there is danger of confrontation.
Therefore, even if a bear acts friendly and non-menacing, it’s important to keep your distance. Don’t leave out food scraps for them to come close, and make sure you keep your distance.
Keeping distance from a bear keeps you both safe. Bears who continually return to humans (because you have fed it, for example) may need to be relocated or euthanized to protect humans in the area.
Are Bears Friendly with Each Other?
No, bears do not seem to make friends in the way humans do. They appear to tolerate each other and even play together when mating, but are mostly reclusive.
Animal social behavior describes how one or more animals of the same species interact with each other. This includes cooperative or sexual behavior, communication, and territorial disputes.
There are degrees of sociability in the animal kingdom, so for example, bees, crows, and wolves all qualify as social animals.
Bears are wired by nature to prefer reclusiveness. For example, bears will only seek out or abide by the company of other bears during the mating season.
Another time one can catch two or more bears together is when mothers look after their cubs for approximately 17 months. The mother will raise, teach and train her young. She will also sleep with them, care for them, and cuddle them.
Among adult bears, they don’t rank too high on the sociability scale.
Some bears can exist in close range to each other and share resources, like black bears. Others, like grizzly bears, aren’t too welcoming of other bears, even of the same species, on their turf.
In general, most bears prefer their own company and keep interaction of any type to a bare minimum.
Are Bears Intelligent Enough to Understand the Concept of Friendship?
Bears tick all the right boxes in terms of intelligence. They’re highly adaptable, resourceful, and have large and complex brains. In the past, bears were trained to perform complicated tricks. That also indicates they have the ability to process information and learn.
But, there is no concrete evidence to reveal what bears think of ‘friendship.’ Since friendship is a human construct and depends on feelings, it’s not common in the animal world. Instead, relationships among animals are based on mutualism, commensalism, or parasitism.
There’s also the fact that bears are shy and prefer seclusion. So, it’s safe to say that a species that doesn’t like interacting with its own kind doesn’t tend to comprehend the idea of friendship – if they even know what it is.
Are Grizzly Bears Friendly?
Coined as Ursus arctos horribilis by the naturalist George Ord, the Grizzly bear is about as far as an animal can get from being friendly.
With a lifespan of 22 years, Grizzlies can reach up to 198cm in height. These larger-than-life animals can weigh anywhere between 290 to 790 pounds. To say they’re intimidating is putting things lightly.
Native to northwestern U.S and Alaska, grizzlies can congregate at streams for summer spawning to feast on freshwater salmon. Apart from that, the species likes to keep to themselves unless there’s procreation involved.
However, sows (female bears) are especially protective of their cubs. They do not hesitate to attack anything they perceive as a threat to their young.
Grizzlies sometimes rank among the most aggressive of the bear species. This does not mean they attack humans out of malice. More often, attacks on humans occur when unwary visitors stray too close to cubs or come upon the bear suddenly and end up startling it.
Are Black Bears Friendly?
While they are not prone to attacking people, black bears are also not friendly. They prefer solitude.
The Ursus americanus or the American black bear is native to North America. Also, there are around sixteen subspecies of American black bears that populate different parts of the country. These include Arizona, Texas, Utah, among others.
American black bears are territorial and quite solitary. They’re drawn to abundant food sources, like dumpsters, thanks to their keen sense of smell. That’s why these bears are more comfortable around humans.
Black bears rarely attack humans. They’re known to scare unsuspecting visitors away by mock charging, hitting the ground with their paws, and blowing loud noises.
Clever, creative, and adaptable, bears rank among the most intelligent mammals on the planet. But, despite their intelligence, they’re mostly retiring, timid, and like to keep to themselves.
Certain bear species are indeed more tolerant of humans, like the American black bear. But overall, they are not considered friendly animals.
Cubs raised in captivity from a young age may end up being more malleable than those in the wild. Still, just because a bear is used to the presence of humans does not make it friendly.
Despite popular misconceptions, these animals aren’t extra aggressive or evil. Attacks on humans are primarily a result of the loss of bear habitat. That’s what increases the chances of bears coming into contact with humans and leads to conflict.
Bears are apex predators (despite being omnivores) because of their great size and strength. As marvels of nature, they deserve respect and are best observed from a safe distance.
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