Welcome to Viktor and Mirna!

After ten years of pressure from the public Viktor and Mirna have been relocated from their cramped concrete cage in Split to a new 5,000 square metre enclosure in Kuterevo. Viktor and Mirna are enjoying their new home so far, but they still have a long way to go before they re-discover their natural bear instincts. Meanwhile they are able to take long swims in the pool, play with (and break!) all the trees in the enclosure, and take naps in the tall grass. Mirna is 31 years of age and therefore is often found resting in the shade, sleeping for many hours during the day. On the other hand Viktor, weighing 250kg, is always on the hunt for fruit and eats more than me at Christmas- (so food donations are greatly appreciated)!

 

In celebration of Viktor and Mirna’s arrival and the completion of the new enclosure, an ‘opening day’ was held on the sixth of June, with people from Croatia and abroad coming to the village for the event. Everyone then retreated into the shade for some traditional food and entertainment. Photos of previous volunteers working on the enclosure were also available for viewing on the day. The exhibition highlighted the hard work done by hundreds of volunteers from over thirty different countries!

 

A BIG thank-you to all those who have donated their time or money to the refuge! None of this would have been possible without Kuterevo volunteers (scouts, workcamps, individuals, EVS and SCI volunteers…), local majstors (Šiljo, Josa, Ive, Želio, Ujkič, Vedran, Mira, Vesna, Nikonila, Tomislav, Nina…), the animal welfare organisation Four Paws, generous donations from visitors, Zoo City and Algoritim, and support from Aktionbarenkinder and municipality…

 

… but we won’t stop here! The ‘Land for Bears’ campaign is still running and we hope to aquire some more space for (future) bears in need of a better life! This fundraising campaign is coming from a great need for new enclosures and reconstruction of old enclosures – we have to collect money, materials or tools because at the moment we have nowhere to host new orphan cubs.

Summer has just started in Kuterevo, and more than 50 volunteers has started to work on a new area for a future enclosure!

On behalf of the Kuterevo bears, we thank you for your support and we hope to see you soon in Kuterevo!

Rebecca

Bears, myths and realities – exhibition in Toulouse, France

Some countries count many bears on their territories, many others have only few left, or none. France is one of these countries where bears have not been welcome for centuries, and where the few still living there (about 20, shared with Spain in Pyrenees mountains) make a lot of troubles, at least in people’s minds and newspapers.

But while bears have almost disappeared from forests and mountains, they still keep a very strong place in people’s (French and others) life and in collective imagination, through myths, legends and believes of all times. Stories based on real facts (like bear symbol of renewal because of winter sleep and spring awakeness), reality influenced by stories (bear demonized in narratives and killed through vast hunting campaigns), the history of bears and people is rich and complex… and totally fascinating.

Since last October and until the beginning of August, the Natural History Museum of Toulouse, France, presents a very interesting exhibition about this relationship between bears and people “Bears, myths and realities”. On our ways through different projects and lives, two of Kuterevo volunteers managed to meet in Toulouse to visit this exhibition.

Following bear tracks in dark corridors, the visit lead us through several rooms: from myths… to reality.

Tales and legends from all over the world, etymology of the word “bear” in different languages, symbols and believes related to bears in various cultures, coats of arms, traditional celebrations… step by step, the exhibition takes the visitors through history, and shows how the bear has been a spiritual guide, a magical figure, a creature so close to humans that they could breed together, how he has been admired, hunted and tamed. And how, in a modern world which doesn’t give much space to him, like to any kind of wilderness, people keep looking for tenderness and reassurance with the bear, with the stuffed figure of the Teddy bear.

Natural and biological facts follows cultural aspects, taking visitors to another kind of reality: presentation of the eigth species of bears is completed by information about bear conservation and coexistence with humans.

The visit is beautiful. One regret: it stays a museum. Lots of information, very interesting facts, great pictures and drawings, everything well documented… but at the end, the feeling that something is missing: perhaps a call to take action, to see more than facts and to think about what can be done.

But the last quote of the visit will as well be the conclusion of this article:

By killing the bear, his parent, his fellow creature, man has for a long time killed his own memory and more or less symbolicaly killed himself.

Michel Pastoureau, L’ours, histoire d’un roi déchu.

Amélie

More about the exhibition.
More about bears and people on this blog.

Bears of the world – the Sun Bear

For the second article, after the moon bear, we would like to say something about the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus).

Very little is known about this bear, and since probably it’s the rarest, it may disappear before we could know more about it. It lives in tropical rainforests of the Southeast Asia, from Bangladesh till the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where the food is available year-round and for this reason it doesn’t hybernate. Its name comes from the golden patch on its chest, but it is also called“Malayan bear”thanks for its geographic location or “honey bear”due to its love for honey.

It’s the smallest bear in the world (when it is born it weights around only 300g, and bigger males can reach 1.50m length and 65kg weight) and is very adapted for climbing: has very long (longest than any bear) and sharp claws, with which it can even open coconuts, and its soles are naked. It spends most of its time on trees and for these reasons in Malaysia it is called basindo nan tenggil which means “he who likes to sit high”. If disturbed, can let himself drop to the ground and then run away.

It is omnivorous, eating a great variety of food, but the main part of its diet is composed by bees, insects’larvae and honey, which it eats with its 25 cm tongue, and fruits, especially figs. Another curious fact about this bear is that it has very large canines and a straordinary bite forces (in relation to its body size), and the scientists still are not sure what is the reason, but the most accepted theory is that it often opens tropical hardwood trees in pursuit of insects.

Despite its small size, it is known to be the most aggressive bear, and it is said to attack people without reason. The fact is that it can show territorial and aggressive behaviors in habitats where food is a limited resources (like in Borneo rainforests), and the male bears compete for access to female bears.

In nature just tigers, leopards and pythons can be potential predators. If it does get attacked, it has loose and wrinkled skin around its neck, so it can turn around and attack predators that bite it on its back!

INTERACTION WITH HUMANS

Main threatens to sun bear is habitat loss usually due to palm oil and rubber industries: deforestation, clear-cutting for plantation development, unsustainable and/or illegal logging practices and human-caused fires are seriously endangering the natural forests it needs to survive.

Where jungle is less threatened by these practices (in Thailand almost all forests are protected), hunting is the main danger for this bear: killing sun bears is strictly prohibited under national wildlife protection laws throughout their range, but is largely uncontrolled and the illegal trade is still very powerful.

Even if less than the Asian black bear, sun bears are also poached for their gall bladders (i.e., bile) used as a Traditional Chinese Medicine, and killed for the meat, especially bear-paws which are sold as an expensive delicacy. Other motivations for killing bears include: preventing damage to crops, subsistence use, fear of bears near villages (for example although few sun bears exist in India, villagers there still kill considerable numbers).

Due to its small size, there is a big trade for cubs, for being used as pets: little bears are taking away from the forest, after killing their mother to prevent hunters from getting harmed. These cubs once they grow may become aggressive and dangerous so, as a result, there are many young orphaned and captive sun bears living in small cages and substandard conditions with no present hope of returning to the wild.

Although the number of sun bears living in the wild is not known, it is suspected that its global population has declined by > 30% over the past 30 years (3 bear generations).

Until deforestation of Southeast Asia forests will continue this bear (and many other forms of life) will be threatened. The main cause of this destruction is for making room to palm plantation, from which will be extract the palm oil, a product used in a lot of different ways in a lot of products from shampoos to chocolate to cleaning products (also including natural and organic products).

Many well-known brands (like Colgate, Kraft, Nestlè..) use it, and often is hidden under different names like vegetal oil or stearic acid. So what can we actively do? We as consumers have the power to decide what to buy and what not, sending a clear message to these companies. All the simple decisions that we make every day can make a big difference!

For more information about the palm oil industry and and its impact you can check the next pages:

http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/palm-oil.php

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests/palm-oil

And if you want to learn more about endangered sun bear, tiger and elephant, take a bit of time to watch that:

IUCN state: VULNERABLE

Population trend: DECREASING

Teo

Bears of the world – the Asian Black Bear

In the coming weeks, we would like to discover with you the different bear species of the world and to understand better if and how they are threatened and/or exploited by man. We will do it through a series of eight articles that will be published on our blog, one for each different species 🙂

Learning together, we’ll get to know better why bears are so important, and what can we do for them. Why bears? Here the answer in short, as an introduction:

Bears are present in America, Asia and Europe and never lived in Australia or Antarctica. As for Africa, just fossil bears have been found.

The species show lots of different aspects, ranging from size, diet, winter habits, etc, but let’s start from some of the common things of all species: bears are very intelligent and opportunistic animals with a very developed sense of smell, followed by hearing and seeing. They are born blind, toothless and hairless, weighing less than 900gr and they will need to stay with their mother for 1-3 years.

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For this first article we chose the Asian Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus):

This bear is also known as “moon bear” thanks to his large, white crescent-shaped mark appearing on his chest, and is one of the 6 species of bear that lives in Asia. Its habitat includes forests going from Afghanistan till Taiwan and Japan including Tibet and eastern-south Russia.

It’s a medium sized bear (adult male range from 100 to 200kg) and like most of other bears is omnivorous, with an opportunistic mainly vegetarian diet that changes due to the period of the year and the food availability.

Among its behaviors, it likes to climb and spends lots of time in a nest that it builds on a tree, unlike other bears, it can live in family groups (at least in captivity). As for the winter behavior, only some specimens of northern latitudes hibernate while others simply go to lower altitudes.

Its main predators in nature are tigers and leopards, but also pack of wolves and dholes can be a menace, especially for cubs.

INTERACTION WITH HUMANS

Like with other bears, a common problem is the loss and fragmentation of habitat due to deforestation and destruction of the forests where it lives (even if in China and Japan its habitat is increasing).

The Moon Bear also has many other problems: it is hunted it for the skin and the paws (bear sport hunting is legal in Russia and Japan).

Furthermore, traditional Chinese medicine is very interested in lots of its parts, like bones and gall bladders, and for taking out the bile exist lots of Bear Farms legal in China and South Korea, where an estimated number of 8000-10000 bears are kept there (number of bears in illegal farms is of course not known). Here bears are kept in little cages with terrible conditions and usually can live to there up to 20 years!

All these bear parts are sold at a high prize and a big part of the trade is illegal.

Finally, due to its natural ability to stand on its hind legs, and its great learning ability in captivity, is often used for entertainment, such as dancing bears in India, fighting bears in Pakistan and circus bears in Vietnam, China and other parts of Asia. Often for these purpose bears are blinded and canine and claws are removed. A practice of drilling the nose (a very sensible part) for tiding them is also common.

There are lots of associations trying to aware public opinion and to save these bears. This is a documentary by one of them.

No rigorous population estimates exist for this species but the population has likely declined by 30-49% over the past 30 years.

IUCN state: VULNERABLE

Population trend: DECREASING

Teo

Bear constellations

Since ancient times, men have recognized the silhouette of the bear in the sky, in the Big Bear (Ursa Major) and Little Bear (Ursa Minor) constellations. Being able to see these shapes in the stary sky is a well-spread knowledge, quite often it’s one of the few constellations that people know.

ursa-major-minor

According to the Greek myth, these bears in the sky are due to the fate of Callisto, one of Artemis’ virgin companions who used to live and hunt with the goddess. Zeus, in love with Callisto, used a stratagem to approach her and made her pregnant. As a punishment, she was turned into a she-bear by Artemis or by Hera, Zeus’ wife, according t o different versions of the myth. Arcas, Callisto’s son, grew up and one day met his mother in the forest and was ready to hunt her. To avoid this matricide, Zeus metamorphosed him as well into a bear and fixed them both in the heavens, as the Great Bear and the Little Bear.

bear-constellation

In other cultures, the same constellations find their origins in different stories as well related to bears.

For the Eskimos, the constellations come from the story of a woman who met a group of bears living in their house in a human form but wearing their bearskins to go out and to hunt. The woman stayed some time with them, but finally went back to her own home, yearning for her husband. Although her promise to the Bear Men to keep their secret, she talked to her husband and, full of curiosity, he went to try to see them. Angry for her betrayal, one of the Bear Men found back the woman and bit her to death. To defend her, her husband’s dog attacked the bear but suddenly, both of the animals burnt bright and rise to the sky, as stars.

URSA-MJ-MI

Other culture, other legends, the Algonkian Indians (North American tribes) identify as well the same stars as bears. It is thus believed that the Great Bear is composed of four stars pursued by seven hunters, and that a group of stars above the bear constitute its den.

This cosmic hunt appeared, in a different way, in the Asian story of the hunt of the spirit elk, Khelgen (Ursa Minor), by Mangi (Ursa Major), the bear and chief ancestor spirit whose tracks are the Milky Way. Khelgen is overtaken every year, at the end of the winter, and with her death the earth come into new life, with the beginning of spring and renewal of nature.

The bear, whose power for renewal after its winter sleep is linked to the regenerations of seasons, appears all year long in the sky, like an eternal sign of the its mystical role as a weather magistrate and prophet Never going under the horizon axis, the two constellations in the sky are seen as the wheels of the seasons and sometimes even considered as essential part of the functioning of the universe.

Amélie

Sources: The Sacred Paw, The bear in nature, myth, and literature. Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders.

Bears Worldwide

During our times as volunteers in Kuterevo, we had of course already learnt some things about Brown Bears. However, there are seven other species of bears, spread around the world. We thought that it would be interesting to learn about these other bears, and to compare the situations of bears in other countries – in the wild and in refuges – with the situation in Croatia and in our refuge. We therefore decided to all get more informed about this topic during two weeks. We all specialized in some topics and presented them to each other, and we watched two documentaries, one about the Panda and one about the Asian Black Bear.

The two ´bear weeks´ were very interesting, but also somewhat depressing. Worldwide, bear numbers are decreasing almost everywhere due to human activities. The only well protected bear is the Panda. Does a bear species have to be nearly extinct, cute and fluffy, and an international icon of nature conservation before it finally gets the respect and protection it deserves…?

Marco presenting to the other volunteers

Marco presenting to the other volunteers

Bear Biology and Bears around the World

We started the bear weeks with an interesting presentation by Marco about the biology of all the eight different species of bears that exist. Later, we all got more informed about the situation of bears in different parts of the world, including their threats and conservation measures that are taken. Below, we give a summary of these presentations.

Biology and Presence

Evolution of different bear species

Evolution of different bear species

Giant Panda – Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Map: distribution of Giant Pandas (2009): several isolated spots in China
Source: IUCN Red List

Panda

Distribution of Giant Pandas (2009): several isolated spots in ChinaSource: IUCN Red List

Spectacled Bear – Tremarctos ornatus

Photograph: Barbara von Hoffman/Animals Animals-Earth Scenes

Map: Distribution of Spectacled Bears (2012): northern and western South America. Source: IUCN Red List

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Sloth Bear – Melursus ursinus

Map: Distribution of Sloth Bears (2010): India and Sri Lanka. Source: IUCN Red List

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Sun Bear – Helarctos malayanus

Map: Distribution of Sun Bears (2010): tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia. Source: IUCN Red List

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American Black Bear – Ursus americanus

Photograph: Taken at Cincinnati Zoo. Photo by Greg Hume

Map: Distribution of American Black Bears (2010): Canada and US.

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Asian Black Bear (Moon Bear) – Ursus thibetanus

Map: Distribution of Asian Black Bears (2010): mainly mountainous areas in Asia. Source: IUCN Red List.

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Polar Bear – Ursus maritimus

Photograph: http://www.naturespicsonline.com, author: Alan Wilson

Map: Distribution of Polar Bears (2006): around the North Pole.

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Brown Bear – Ursus arctos

Map: Distribution of Brown Bears: North America, Europe, Asia

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The Sun Bear, living in Southeast Asia, is the smallest of all bear species, with adult bears weighing just between 27 (females) and 70 kilos (males). Polar bears are the biggest bears. Male adults on average weight 720 kilos. When they stand on four feet, they measure about two meters from toes to shoulders! The weight of bears is very variable and depends a lot on their diet.

All bears have the biology of carnivores, although most species eat more than 50% vegetarian food. Polar bears are real carnivores, eating mainly seals, while Pandas eat almost only bamboo. Sloth Bears feed mostly on insects, and their mouths are pointy and suitable for getting insects from trees.

Brown Bears occur in a big part of the world, and their diet varies between different areas. In Croatia, the diet of Brown Bears consists for only about 5% of meat. The Brown Bears in Finland eat almost 30% meat. The Grizzly Bear in North America is a subspecies of the Brown Bear, and these bears eat 10 to 40% meat, including fat salmons.

Unlike the Croatian Brown Bears, most bear species don´t hibernate. Only some bears in cold areas go into hibernation during winter.

Threats

The numbers of most bear species (excluding Brown Bears) have been declining for many years. For example, both the number of Moon Bears and Sun Bears has decreased with more than 30% in the past three decades.

The main threats for bears are all related to people. Numbers of bears are declining because of hunting, poaching and destruction of their habitat. In many countries in Asia, bears are hunted for body parts which are by some said to be healthy to eat or to bring luck. Mainly Sun Bears are also hunted and kept in farms for their bile: the digestion fluid in their gall blatter, which is used as a traditional medicine.

Conservation

Most bear species are classified as ´vulnerable´ on the Red List of the IUCN (link to www.iucnredlist.org), which means that there is a high risk of endangerment of the species in the wild. The Panda is listed as ´endangered´, because there are only several thousand individuals left in the wild, spread over isolated areas, and there is a considerable chance that the species will die out in the wild. The Brown Bear is the only bear species to be globally listed under ´least concern´ by the IUCN, even though their numbers have been decreasing considerably.

In most countries where threatened bears reside, the bears are protected by law and it is forbidden to hunt them. However, in many countries these laws are badly implemented. This is mainly the case in vast countries outside Europe.

The Panda is a special case. As it is much endangered and very mediagenic, there are many programs to help it, and there are severe punishments by the Chinese government for poaching. Panda habitat is being restored and different areas in which Pandas reside are being linked together. Also, Pandas which are raised in captivity are being released into the wild.

Bear Refuges around the World

We found it interesting to inform ourselves about other bear refuges in the world than Kuterevo, to learn about the situation of bears in refuges in those countries. Marco made a detailed presentation about 7 other refuges: 3 in Europe (Germany, Netherlands and Hungary), 2 in Southeast Asia (Cambodia and Indonesia), and 2 in North America (USA and Canada).

We discovered different ways of managing the bears in refuges, like in North America: after rehabilitating the orphan cubs, they release them in the wild. Even though there it is possible, in Croatia this action would be deadly for the bears: the forests here are fragmented and the bears have lost their natural instinct in the enclosure, and they would probably get close to humans again to look for food… then they would die or have to go back to a refuge.

To finish, most of these refuges are run by volunteers and we can stress two important aspects: the refuges propose educational workshops about bears, and work thanks to donations to finance for example new enclosures. The first aspect has, we hope, a direct link with the second: if we succeed to inform people about what bears need to live peacefully and how people should behave when they meet one of them, then maybe less bears will arrive in the refuges because they were too much in contact with humans. Then, we won’t need more enclosures anymore to welcome bears. Unlike zoos, we don’t wish to keep bears in enclosures, but work to make people understand that one of the best ways to love and respect nature, is to let it its wilderness, bears included.

Alice (France) and Kim (Netherlands)

The medicinal bear

MedicineBearBear has always been an important symbol in many cultures, all over the world. Pagan rites, myths and legends, names, heraldic emblems… the mystical power of the bear appears in an amazingly wide range of cultural elements. Through centuries, he has been strongly venerated and respected for his strength but as well believed to hold other powers. One example is his medicinal knowledge and healing capacities.

Indeed, in different cultures, the bear is said to hold a considerable power, an unnatural strength coming from all the parts of his body. For many pagan cultures, he is a “doctor”. The Buryats (aboriginal Siberian group) even say that “the whole bear is a cure”. The properties of the bear medicines are very diverse. For example, in Asia, their bile has been used to cure various diseases and their teeth to treat toothache. The Kalac (Russia) collected frozen bear excrement as a cure for constipation while the Eskimos believed that a sterile woman should eat a raw penis. The Blackfoot (American Indians) derived the power of their medicine pipes from various bear concoctions and could intensify the power of the pipe by being dressed with grizzly skins.

In the Balkans, where the dancing bear tradition was very strong, the bear leaders used the animal as having magical healer properties. When someone was ill, it was possible to pay a bear master to make the bear dancing in front of the house. Breathing smoke or eating ashes from burnt bear hair was also used to reduce fever. In order to heal arthritis, rheumatism or fever, the patient should lie on his stomach so the bear could walk on his back. Thus, the animal was supposed to transmit his power and to take the weaknesses upon himself. In some cases, the bear could have a bad influence. For instance, pregnant women should not watch a dancing bear or this could give a bad temperament to the child.

03 Dancing bear

But the bear was not only a “medicine”. According to various tribal accounts, he also knew how to heal himself and so to be a master healer. Thus, many tribes (Cheyenne, Eastern Cree, Penobscot, etc.) have believed that it is possible to learn what plants are beneficial to human health only by watching what the bear eats. They also believed that their Shamans, sometimes called “bear doctor”, received their healing powers from bears. For the Tewa tribe (American Indians), the word kieh, or “doctor”, is even synonymous of “bear”.

While the bears are losing their place in the world of men, it’s as well all the traditional believes and knowledge linked to wilderness which is disappearing.  It’s not truth of the old faiths which really matters (you can doubt of the medical efficiency of bears’ excrements ;-)) but more the bond to nature, the values and respect going with it, the testimony of a former way of life which was probably far wiser and reasonable than the one of today.

Amélie

Bears and humans have wandered the earth together for millennia. Bears have lumbered around in our memories and our dreams. They have given us comfort and have inhabited our fears. Over time and among many peoples, humans have shared a kinship with bears. If we lose the bear we lose not only an important part of our rich natural heritage but a part of ourselves.” Robert E. Bieder