Bears can and have been tamed in the past for human entertainment. The question is one of conscience and whether they should be. Animal rights activists were successful in limiting the domestication of bears in the 20th Century and they are now rarely tamed.
Bears are smarter than dogs and have a brain capacity second to no other non-human land mammals of the North American continent. Wildlife biologists have confirmed that Bears have a mental ability comparable to high functioning primates such as Gorillas and Macaques.
Can You Keep Bears As Pets?
Bears do not make good pets and should not be brought out of their natural habitats into domesticated environments. It’s extremely unsafe and should be avoided at all costs.
Trained animal breeders and wild bear handlers have of course kept bears in somewhat successful captive states, but they are dedicated and have trained for years to accomplish even the smallest of fetes.
Challenges can occur at any stage of a Bears natural development cycle, with few warning signs of depression or psychological distress. It’s in these moments that Bears tend to lash out and attack humans, often to their own detriment.
Can You Teach Bears Tricks?
It is possible to teach Bears tricks because they are incredibly smart. They have some of the largest brain cavity to skull size ratios in the animal kingdom, which they use to socialise, hunt and communicate.
Bears are highly sociable in nature and are part of a complex hierarchical structure that enables them to solve complicated puzzles. One such trick is numerical cognition, which means that
Bears can inherently distinguish different numerosities. This intricate pattern of recognition puts Bears in the same category as high functioning primates.
Bears’ navigation skills may also be better than humans. They are able to confidently navigate vast swathes of land with relative ease, using their keen sense of smell to help guide them.
A Kodiak Grizzly Bear native to Alaska was observed carrying a wooden board to a thorny overpass and laying it down in an effort to get across and retrieve a can of Coca Cola. Amazingly, the intricacies of getting across this land bridge were fully understood by the Bear. It serves to remind us of their unique talent and understanding of problem-solving.
The Bear was also able to apply previously learned skills to novel items such as a piece of wood for back-scratching and a rock for exfoliating.
Why Are Bears So Smart?
Bears need to be smart to effectively live in the wild. The apex predator gene is only present in animals that are equipped with the best chances of survival.
Evolution has made sure that Bears have a steady arsenal of skills to utilise in the wild including some of the best memories in the animal kingdom.
Bears can remember when and where they encountered a certain food for up to ten years. This helps Bears find prominent feeding grounds in huge territorial areas.
Bears can also recognize other animals from a distance of around two thousand feet and structure their references accordingly. They recognize complicated social hierarchies, even from species not belonging to their own.
Captive Bears have maintained the highest intelligence-related skills of all the Carnivora species. They can be taught from a young age to immerse themselves in difficult tasks with relative ease.
In the past, captive Bears have had the necessary skills to ride bikes, roller skate and play musical instruments.
Scientists have proven that Bears are uniquely smart and can solve complex numerical equations. They may be so smart in fact that they are increasingly sensitive to captive environments, especially when they are mistreated or abused.
Related: Can you Ride a Bear?
The History of Dancing Bears
The taming of Bears is a centuries-old practice that dates back to middle age Europe and was even popular in US Colleges in the 20th Century.
Carnival officials would pay huge sums of money for Bears to be transported throughout the continent as circus attractions. It wasn’t until 1911 that the practice of cultivating Bears for performances was outlawed in Great Britain.
In the years that followed things would take a darker turn and a black market would appear to further take advantage of smarter animals such as Bears.
Dancing Bears as they were known throughout America, appeared in circus acts and drew in tremendous crowds from all over the world. The revenue generated was considerably large enough to ignore the cries of animal welfare groups and continue the cruel practice.
Obviously, the Bears were unpaid and spent the majority of their lives off stage confined to a cage no bigger than the Bear itself.
The conditions Bears faced inside the circus would often lead to depression and the onset of serious psychological problems.
They frequently suffered from a condition known as Zoochosis which describes the stereotypical behaviour of animals kept in captivity. It involves repetitive and invariant behaviours, usually pacing with no apparent purpose or intent.
Bears in the wild roam vast home ranges that span for hundreds of miles. When Bears are kept in cages for prolonged periods, they are damaged beyond repair and cannot be released back into the wild.
The History of Live Bear Mascots in US Colleges
Colleges in the United States also used live bear mascots right up to the 1970s. They were phased out due to concerns about animal welfare.
The University of Maine had their first live black bear in 1914. Their last live bear was named Cindy Bananas. When Maine outlawed live mascots in 1969, the university moved over to a bear dress-up costume which they named Bananas T Bear.
Baylor University similarly had live black bears at their games from 1914. They still have live bears housed at their Class C Zoo on campus, but since 1981 have exclusively used human mascots dressed in bear costumes.
Other universities that have had live bear mascots include Bruno University, University of California Berkley, Lenoir-Rhyne University, UCLA, the University of Montana, and the US Coastguard Academy.
Bears are not pets and nor should they be domesticated. These fantastic animals represent some of the last of the great beasts. In fact, the Californian Grizzly has already gone extinct as recently as one hundred and fifty years ago. It would have been one of the largest Bear species to ever exist and one of the smartest.
Bears must be left alone and encouraged to thrive in their natural surroundings. Domestication only breeds generational harm. Cubs aren’t able to learn crucial hunting and development skills from their mothers, which leads to a rapid decline in wild populations.
If bears are to be truly protected, they need to be admired from a distance.
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