I visited the North American Black Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota a while back, and took back with me invaluable information about the American Black Bear.
Of the many things I learned there, one fact stands out in my mind: the American public has been sold a bill of goods about bears. We have been badly educated about America's wild bears. How so?
Since the 1940's (and continuing to this day) prestigeous magazines - like Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, American Hunter, Life Magazine, Time Magazine, Petersen's Bowhunting, even National Geographic - have been publishing demonizing articles and magazine covers that evoke fear in us. As a result, millions of us have ingrained notions of bears as 'snarling bruins' out to attack and kill us at every opportunity.
This is simply not the case.
Their bear attack stories garnered a huge readership and erroneously taught us in the process that bears were "growling, slant-eyed demons" with "minds only for mayhem." As for the men who fought them, they were always described as nothing short of heroes. [This comes from an Outdoor Life article published in 1998 by author James Driscoll who wrote about how bear attack stories had changed over the last 100 years.]
The Bear Center had nine such magazine covers on display, which I photographed for you. I am sure you will recognize or remember some these horrific covers -- I know I do!
The thing is, all bears are not alike in their disposition or ferociousness. The grizzly bear, for example, is 27 times more likely to attack humans than the black bear. And even then grizzlies, like all bears, prefer a solitary existence and normally only attack when provoked by humans.
Sometimes the provocation is mindless, like leaving food within easy reach at campsites; or it is more stupid like people hiking into the remote wilderness armed with little or no information about regional bears and their behavior, or what to look for.
Take a close look at these covers, and remember that black bears are timid and easily frightened, reclusive, mostly solitary, and inherently non-confrontational. They are not dangerous and unpredictable. They also do not snarl (like dogs) or show their teeth in aggressive displays. And they are not ferociously protective of their cubs like the grizzly bear is.
These demonizing covers have it all wrong about bears. Their primary objective is to SELL MAGAZINES. And drama sells! Touched up bear photographs sell. The problem is, educators and well-intentioned others pick up on these misleading dramatizations and pass them along as important sources of bear information, which they are not.
Meanwhile, all wild bears in North America are loosing habitat and suffering losses from hunting and from misguided folks who think it is OK feed them.
[CLICK ON EACH COVER TO SEE A LARGER VERSION]
*These covers are on display at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota.
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Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph, Photojournalist and Educator
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