Historically, bears have played a prominent role in many different cultures throughout the world. Many early religions worshipped bears like the sun bear or believed other bears, like the sloth bear, had magical powers because they appeared to be able to fall from great heights without being injured. Many cultures of the Far East believe different bear body parts, such as gall bladders, contain healing medicinal powers. In fact, the trade in bear parts for the Asian traditional medicine market is one of the greatest threats to the continued survival of many bear species. The early Greeks and Romans named the most recognizable groups of stars in the northern sky (the big dipper) Ursa Major or “the great bear.”
Because they can stand on their hind legs, bears have often been viewed as human-like and their rounded bodies, faces, and bellies give them a cute and cuddly appearance. The intelligence and learning abilities of bears has led to their use as animals for entertainment. As a result, many brown bear cubs in Europe and Asia were raised by humans and trained as dancing bears. In the U.S., similar to “Yogi Bear” in the Jellystone Park cartoon series, real bears were purposely lured to trash piles in National Parks so tourists could watch them eat. To this day, one of the most comforting stuffed animals most children often own is a “teddy bear.” At the other end of the spectrum, many people think bears are dangerous man-eaters that seek out and kill innocent humans, especially children. Many European fairy tales portray bears as dangerous monsters. Still other groups of people view bears as nuisances that destroy honeybee hives and raid crops. Bears should not be perceived as cute and cuddly or aggressive man-eaters. Unfortunately, these misconceptions can cause people to act in ways that harm themselves, and often, the bears.
In North America, bears have historically played a central role in many Native American cultures. For example, Pueblo Indians believed that the sun’s power flowed through the raised paws of the bear. Many prairie tribes of the Midwest gave bear paw necklaces to their greatest warriors and leaders. Many Alaskan and Canadian tribes placed bears in high places of prominence on their totem poles and attributed abilities such as dance and fearlessness to the bear god.
In this Lesson Three: Bear Dilemmas, students will learn to describe how past and present cultures viewed bears, the types of attitudes people have towards wildlife and specifically bears, their own attitudes towards bears, and how different actions can affect Florida black bear survival.
Today, bears are still a large part of American culture. We use terms such as “bear” market when discussing the stock market and use the image of bears to sell everything from sofas to cola drinks to auto parts. Bears have been the subject of numerous movies such as “The Bear” and television shows such as “Grizzly Adams.” The Florida black bear was even the focus of television series “Gentle Ben” in the 1960s. Unfortunately, many movie and television portrayals of bears tend to be anthropomorphic (attributing human emotions to bears), and as a result, many people believe bears seek out, or even thrive on human companionship. In reality, bears are wild animals with their own special needs who survive best with limited or no contact with humans. One of the best things humans can do for bears is to provide them with large tracts of undeveloped natural habitat and allow them to live their lives without our intervention.
Key Question: How do different kinds of people view Florida black bears? What are the main ways people interact with Florida black bears?
Main Topic: Cultural views of bears and attitudes toward Florida black bears
Format: Values clarification and discussion activity
Description: Students use scenarios based on real-world issues to explore and discuss their attitudes toward Florida black bears and wildlife in general. They also identify potential actions that can be taken related to Florida black bear issues.