Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bears: Myths and Realities

Bears, Myths and Realities is the new exhibition event at the Natural History Museum in Toulouse which runs from 13th October ton the 30th June 2014. 

The bear is a  mythical animal and until the Middle Ages in France was regarded as the king of the animals with bear worship popular in some parts of the Pyrenees . It was the Catholic church at this time which began to demonise the bear and the cult of the bear. The lion was promoted as the real king of the animals and bears were persecuted and hunted to near extinction.

The exhibition looks at how, whether revered or feared, the bear is the object of many fantasies and desires, between attraction and aversion.

Perhaps the fascination about bears starts with the fact that they resemble ourselves in many ways. They can walk upright, have closely human-like ears, have a similar diet, and leave tracks with the whole of their back foot (heel, arch and toes). In France the bear is given human names like Martin or  lou pedescaous (le va-nu-pieds, or ‘the barefooted one’),  loucourailhat (‘the vagabond’) and Mousu (‘le monsieur’).

There are examples of the 8 different bear species from around the world. The brown bear from the Pyrenees is represented by the Canelle the last 'authentic' female bear in the Pyrenees, shot by a hunter in 2004. Her pelt has been mounted and on display.

The exhibition comes at a time when the tension between the pro and anti brown bear reintroduction factions has heightened. Those previously against the reintroduction of Slovenian bears to boost the population of bears in the Pyrenees (largely farmers and shepherds in the mountains) are now not only calling for no further reintroductions, but that the existing brown bears should be removed. They have threatened to take measures into their own hands although brown bears remain a protected species and killing them remains illegal.

Website: Natural History Museum of Toulouse

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