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Bears are like majestic royalty in the animal kingdom, both respected and admired by humans for ages.
They even inspired countless stories, legends, and cultural icons, such as Baloo from The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh.
However, here’s a question that maybe crossed your mind while watching some of your favorite bear shows: Can bears be domesticated?
At first, it seems like a fairytale, but is it a realistic possibility?
In this article, we’ll explore the potential and obstacles of domesticating bears, as well as the dangers and hazards involved in the endeavor.
Can Bears Be Domesticated?
Bears are wild animals and cannot be domesticated. While it is possible to train them to a certain extent, they can never be completely tamed or domesticated. The main reasons for this are their genetic makeup, solitary nature, and wild predatory instincts.
Unlike dogs, which have evolved to live with humans over the course of 15 thousand years, bears have not undergone such a process.
Even if raised from birth by humans, bears could always potentially exhibit aggressive behavior. One bad move can lead to fatal consequences.
However, while most biologists think that it is impossible to completely tame a bear, some argue that under the perfect circumstances and course of several generations, the domestication of bears is doable.
Let’s leave the opinions aside and dive deep into a discussion.
Challenges of Domesticating Bears
Bear domestication is a difficult task since there are many obstacles along the way. Here are four main challenges.
Bears are naturally wild animals, and they belong to the wilderness.
In captive conditions, their hunting instincts, sense of territoriality, and tendency to roam vast territories are limited.
These behaviors are hardwired into their DNA and cannot be modified in course of one generation.
That being said, these traits make bears challenging to control in captivity, and even trained bears may revert to their natural instincts, putting their caretakers at a risk.
Another challenge in domesticating bears lies in genetics. Unlike domesticated animals such as dogs or cats, bears are not genetically predisposed to living with humans.
When we say domesticated animal, we think of an animal whose behavior is fully under the control of its owner.
It also means that the animal has traits like docility, socialization, and obedience. And most crucially, it means that the coexistence will not put the caretaker in danger, which is impossible with wild bears.
The process of domestication may take many generations before any significant progress is made.
Bears are solitary animals, and they usually prefer to live alone, except for mothers and cubs during the breeding season. In actuality, bears are the least social animals among the Carnivora. (source)
You might wonder why a solitary lifestyle affects domestication. The reason is that animals that are more unsocial are harder to tame since they do not recognize the hierarchy.
Wolves, on the other hand, have been successfully tamed to some extent because they understand the social hierarchy and pack life.
In the wild, bears often kill each other, even their own cubs. So, it’s unlikely that a “tamed” bear will connect with humans when they don’t even form attachments to their own kind.
While a domesticated bear may develop a certain level of bonding with humans, it will never see humans as part of its “clan” or consider them as its leader.
I don’t need to tell you that bears are not friendly as they may seem in some viral social media videos. In fact, they are one of the largest and most powerful land mammals on our planet.
And while it’s true that most bear species are not typically aggressive toward humans, they are capable of killing any person in a flash.
Unfortunately, driven by their hunting instincts, these reactions may happen in various situations. Bears can suddenly change their behavior in a matter of seconds, making them highly unpredictable, which is a major obstacle on the road to domestication.
So, despite many bears being trained to be around people and having years of experience with humans without any significant incidents, predicting a bear’s behavior remains impossible.
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Case Studies of Bear Domestication
Despite the challenges of domesticating bears, attempts have occasionally been made to keep them as pets or in captivity for entertainment or conservation.
While some people have attempted to keep bears as pets, rest assured it’s not a wise idea. Keeping a pet bear carries risks for both people and the animal.
On top of that, it is illegal to own a bear in many counties. However, in some parts of the world, such as Russia and Asia, bears have a long history of being “kept as pets” and used for other entertainment purposes.
As mentioned, bears are unpredictable and prone to attack at any time. Furthermore, it is impossible to replicate their living conditions in captivity.
Animal sanctuaries are refuge places for neglected, abandoned, or injured for all kinds of animals, including bears.
Even while the living conditions in these sanctuaries are better than what the previously abused bears had, it is still not the best environment for most wild animals.
As you already know, zoos are facilities that house and exhibit animals for public viewing and education. They are managed by professionals who provide food and medical care for the animals.
Yet, keeping wild animals (including bears) in captivity for entertainment or education is unethical for many people. They argue that animals experience physical and psychological stress due to limited enclosures, a lack of natural environments, and restricted movement.
While it may be possible to train bears, they can’t be domesticated, at least not any time soon. Domestication of bears is a difficult task that faces several challenges and even with perfect circumstances and several generations, domestication of bears is still considered unlikely.
In the end, domesticating wild bears is also cruel to the animals themselves because they are forcefully taken away from their natural habitats and their normal way of life.