Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bears - Myths and Realities

The exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Toulouse 'Bears - Myths and Realities' was interesting, enjoyable and at the same time thought provoking.

The 8 species of bear around the world were introduced using stuffed bears and then the exhibition went on to concentrate on the brown bear in the Pyrenees and the relation between bears and humankind from the stone age to the present. At one time revered and 'king' of the animals, the brown bear was demonised from the middle ages and hunted to near extinction. The population of brown bears in the Pyrenees was thought to be unsustainable so bears were introduced from Slovenia. Bear cubs are being born but the bear population remains too small at around 25.

Skeleton of  the Pyrenean brown bear Papillon.
I was surprised by the size of the brown bear skeletons.The skeleton of Papillon who lived to the age of 28, which is very old for a bear in the wild, was smaller than I had expected although the claws were enormous.

Scan of a young, healthy brown bear
Scan of brown bear Papillon's skull  who died aged 28.
The scan of a healthy brown bear skull was contrasted with the skull of the old male brown bear (Papillon). The difference in the state of the teeth was very clear.

This quote suggesting that how we have treated the brown bear, and continue to treat it is, reflects badly on ourselves summed up the pro bear bias. The anti bear arguments from hill farmers with animals to rear, one side of a continuing heated debate, were not touched on .

The exhibition Bears - Myths and Realities is at the Natural History Museum in Toulouse until 30th June 2014.

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