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Bears

( Originally Published 1936 )

These animals are among the most interesting, as well as the largest, of the carnivora. Although placed in the distinctly flesh-eating family, in reality many of the members rarely feed on flesh at all, their diet consisting of roots, fruit, and nuts, and many of the forms seldom eat animals larger than small grubs and insects. Bears are extremely playful in their habits, much given to wrestling and boxing with one another, showing great skill and agility in tumbling about, and warding off each other's blows as two prize-fighters might. Nearly all the species are fond of water, and delight in soaking themselves for hours at a time. All have extremely sensitive noses, which in some species are also very pliable and movable. The lips, as well, are mobile, and the animal does not drink by lapping, like the lions and tigers, but by sucking the water into its mouth. The large and powerful legs are much bent inwards, in many species the front feet almost crossing each other when walking, and all are immensely muscular, getting over ground at great speed when necessary. The northern forms hibernate in winter, going into some den, or hole under a tree, and there remaining in a deep sleep until spring. Before retiring, they grow enormously fat, and this surplus fat sustains them during their long sleep. Southern species, such as the Sloth Bear of India and the Malayan Bear, I believe, do not have this habit.

On the North American continent there are two well-marked species, the Black Bear (Ursus americanus) and the Grizzly (Ursus ferox). The former is much the smaller, large specimens weighing from four to five hundred pounds, and is a less formidable creature in every way. It has a wide range, and at one time was common throughout the eastern parts of the United States, extending into Florida. The head and feet are comparatively small, the ears very large, and rounded at the tips, and in winter it is covered with a dense soft fur through which protrude shining black hairs of considerable length. It has no definite mane, as has the Grizzly, and the claws are much sharper in comparison and more delicately made. The Black Bear is fond of almost every sort of food, eating, at different times of the year, berries and other fruit, grubs and insects, which it digs up from about the roots of trees, and also fish, which it deftly whips from the water with a stroke of its paw. It climbs trees with great facility, particularly when young, and often robs the bees in order to obtain honey, of which it is very fond. At such times, though it may be severely stung by the angry bees, the bear endures the agony for the sake of the reward. This animal is often hunted and tracked with dogs, and when the female has young ones with her, she defends them with great courage and agility. At other times, the Black Bear can hardly be said to be eager to fight, running away as fast as its legs can carry it when suddenly coming face to face with a hunter. Like most Bears, it has a habit of standing upright when alarmed or interested.

Particularly in the Western part of the United States, there is a form of the Black Bear known as the Cinnamon, in every respect a counterpart except in the matter of colour, which is often of a deep brown or cinnamon. It has been conclusively proved, however, that it is but a variety of the same animal. Of late years several other well-marked varieties have been discovered in the northwestern parts of British Columbia and Alaska, one of them the Glacier Bear, with a kind of grey, or smoke-coloured fur, another almost white. The Black Bear well exemplifies the extraordinary range of colour that may occur in one species, running from almost pure white to jet-black through the various shades of brown and grey; and it is almost impossible ever to find two bears of exactly the same colour. The young of the Black Bear are very pretty and playful little creatures, and are often kept as pets by hunters. They soon become tame and can be taught many interesting tricks.

The Grizzly Bear of our Western States is one of the largest and most formidable species in existence. This huge creature has been estimated to weigh a thousand pounds, or more, and it was formerly much dreaded by Indians and hunters of the plains. Of late years, however, having learned a wholesome fear of bullets, it is with difficulty that a shot at this wary animal is obtained. In the Yellowstone Park, owing to the protection afforded them, they have become rather tame, and one may see them at times feeding on the refuse thrown out by the various hotels of the national preserve. The Grizzly, like the Black,varies immensely in colour, according to individuals and the region in which it is found. It has a very characteristic head, a rather long and black snout, the tip of which is upturned something after the manner of the pig's nose, and there is a definite mane, or crest, extending along the back of the neck. The claws are long and powerful, and are used in turning over logs and stones to obtain ants and other insects which it seeks for food, and also to defend itself in case of attack. A blow from these terrible claws has been known to tear a man's head almost from his shoulders, and Indians tell thrilling stories of their encounters with these animals. An Indian brave of the old days who could boast a necklace of Grizzly Bear claws was considered a great man in his tribe, and it took a bold man indeed to attack and overcome one of these ferocious creatures.

The legs of this Bear are very long in proportion to its size, the fore limbs being particularly so, the body sloping down both ways from the shoulders. In former times the Grizzly fed chiefly upon the bison that roamed the plains in great herds, but of late years, owing to their extinction, it has become a great foe to domestic cattle and horses. Although apparently clumsy and ungainly, the speed of this animal for a short distance is remarkable, comparing even with that of the horse. A Grizzly has been seen to rush out and pursue a herd of cattle, striking down one of the hindmost steers with a blow of its paw. When wounded, the animal will endeavour to get away, but if cornered, will make a determined fight, rising on its hind legs and rushing forward to grapple with its antagonist; at such times, with mouth held open and the small ears laid back flat on the head, it has a most terrifying, appearance. The eyes are so small as to be hardly visible in the head, and as a matter of fact, no Bear has very keen vision, depending for safety upon its extraordinary sense of smell and its hearing.

A variety known as the Silver-tipped Grizzly owes its name to the colour of the fur, which has a whitish, or grizzled, appearance.

In Alaska and the Island of Kadiak is found a species of Bear known as the Kadiak, somewhat resembling the Grizzly and also the Brown Bear of Europe. Specimens of this huge creature have been known to weigh fifteen hundred pounds and to reach a height of five feet or more at the shoulder. It has an enormous head, measuring as much as eighteen inches in width and eighteen inches in length in the skull alone, and with flesh and hair added it is of course much larger. The nose of the Kadiak is much shorter in proportion to the size of the head than that of the Grizzly, and this gives the face a stumpy appearance. The legs are extremely long, and the fur is of a softer and more woolly quality than that of the latter animal. This Bear has been known to the Alaskan hunters on the island for a number of years, but its numbers are steadily diminishing, owing to constant hunting. In consequence of the limited range of the Kadiak, its food is rather singular, consisting, in summer, of grass, on which it browses much like a cow, and of berries; and in the spring it goes down to the river banks and there catches and eats the salmon, which at that time are passing up the rivers in enormous numbers to spawn.

The Yakutat Bear, a similar form, is found upon the mainland immediately adjoining the island of Kadiak. Specimens which I have seen measured ten feet in height, when standing erect, and the immense bulk of one that is at present in the Zoological Park at Washington is apparent at a glance and dwarfs into insignificance the largest grizzly in the collection.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

This Bear, found in the Arctic regions, is probably the largest of all existing species. In form it differs markedly from any of the preceding, having a very long neck, a small head, and shoulders lower than those of the others, the highest part of the animal being in the centre of the back. The feet are enormously large and powerful, the black claws cornparatively short, and in winter the bottoms of the feet are covered with a thick coat of coarse hair that prevents slipping on the ice. See Plate 7, Fig. 31. In character the Polar Bear is less suspicious than the other forms and less difficult to shoot, and its speed when running is not so great. In captivity it evinces remarkable restlessness, swinging its long neck and head from side to side, often for hours at at a time, in a most tiresome and exasperating manner. Though rather dull and stupid in disposition, it has been trained to do many tricks, and is often exhibited in shows of trained animals. The fur of the Polar Bear has a soft appearance, due to its delicate cream-white colour, but it is really very stiff and coarse in texture. The yellow in the fur deepens as the animal grows older, but the skin itself is almost black, the end of the nose and the lips par-taking of this deep colouration. The eyes are dark in colour and rather larger than those of most Bears, the head is very long and flat, there being no division between the nose and the back part, the ears are small, well furred to the tips, and set close to the sides of the head. A magnificent swimmer, as might be sup-posed, since its principal food lives in the water; it is said also to wait at seal-holes until the seal comes up to breathe, and then by a dexterous stroke of the paw, to drag the unsuspecting victim from the water. It is also able to plunge in and catch fish, and has been seen by various Arctic explorers swimming many miles out at sea. Occasionally one is carried south on a floating iceberg. The young are born in the spring, and at that time of the year, the ground being covered with snow, the mothers and babies remain in caves for several weeks before emerging.

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

Exclusively an Old World form, the Brown Bear extends throughout Europe and a great part of Asia as far as the Himalayas, and has been celebrated for many years in song and story. In general habits it closely resembles the grizzly, and is often with difficulty distinguished when specimens of the two kinds are in the same cage. It is clothed with long shaggy brown hair, the eyes and ears are small, and it is shorter-legged and more chunkily-built than the grizzly. See Plate 6, Fig. 30. Though possessed of enormous strength and tenacity of life, it is not known to prey upon large game. In Russia this Bear has for many years been regularly hunted by the aid of dogs, and at such times it defends itself vigorously, often killing or wounding several of its assailants be-fore being despatched; and in England, long after Bears became extinct in the wild state, they were reared, or imported from abroad, for the favourite sport of bear-baiting.

A number of other species of Bear are found in Europe, but they do not differ in general character from the Brown Bear.

A large and interesting species is the Yezo, found in certain parts of Japan, somewhat resembling the black bear of our own country, but considerably larger and more formidable. The Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) of India is an extraordinary form differing much from the others. It has short legs, ears enormously large and hairy, nose and lips very pliable and often projected at great length when feeding. The hair is long and coarse, hanging down on both sides of the back, and the front feet are turned inwards, giving a pigeon-toed appearance when walking. It is a small animal, seldom weighing more than two or three hundred pounds, is extremely grotesque, and plays many singular antics.

The Himalayan Bear (Ursus isabellinus) is an other well-marked species, somewhat like the black bear, but more heavily-built. The ears also are larger and more rounded than in our own bear, and the animal usually has a white streak across the breast.

The Malayan Sun Bear (Ursus malayanus) is an interesting and curious animal, chiefly notable for an almost total lack of hair, the little it has being very fine and sparse. It is, however, a thick and stockily-built animal and very powerful for its size, which is not great, large specimens weighing not more than a hundred and fifty or two hundred pounds. In captivity this Bear is singularly active and restless, tumbling and turning about in all kinds of attitudes. Two that are in the Philadelphia collection are very interesting from their constant gambols with each other, wrestling and fighting like two men, and at times performing all sorts of tricks in order to obtain peanuts, of which they are very fond. The colour of this Bear is black, with a rather greyish appearance about the muzzle and a curious orange-coloured patch across the throat. The head is thick-set and heavy, the ears are small, the feet large and power-fully made, the claws very long and curved. It runs with great agility and climbs trees with facility, and although such a small animal, is no mean antagonist, being very strong and muscular.



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