Photo of the Day#28: Black Bear


The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is so common in northern New Jersey that many people don't need to go to a zoo in order to see one. Although there have been occasional sightings of the animals in New Brunswick, I've only once seen a Black Bear in the wild, a large individual that quickly ran off through the forest as soon as I saw it. Still, the Black Bear population in New Jersey exponentially increased in a very short period of time, many state conservation and wildlife agencies coming under fire for supporting or not supporting a bear hunt (at least one official left their office due to their opinions on a potential bear hunting season). Black Bears are also of interest to us in another, unexpected capacity; some mangy, nearly hairless individuals give rise to Bigfoot myths. The individual pictured above is in much better condition, however, and is part of a pair on display at the Turtle Back Zoo.

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OMG, the Turtleback Zoo?!
I grew up in Westfield NJ and often visited the zoo, but the last time must have been--yikes!--35 years ago! I still remember the smell of the foxes and getting to "ride" on the giant tortoises. Nostalgia!

By Sven DiMIlo (not verified) on 05 Nov 2007 #permalink

I can actually see how mangy black bears could be confused for Sasquatch; a *lot* of cultures have seen enough similarity in how bears in general are built (as compared with humans) to have stories about bears originating from humanity (and vice versa), or at least having a "brother species" relationship.

For instance, Cherokee folk have stories of an entire *clan* turning to black bears, and people turning partway into bears by living with them; the Korean national myth, on the other hand, also had the mother of the First Emperor as a bear who turned herself into a human. (Interestingly, *both* stories have the "were-bears" fasting and drinking sacred herb tea beforehand for a set number of days.)

Ainu and Finnish/Saami traditional religions also pretty much see bears both as kin to humans, too. So lots of people saw it--it would *not* shock me to see nearly naked bears being the origin of Sasquatch stories (especially in light of the fact that, especially out west, "cinnamon" and even "ghost bear" morphs of black bears are known that have lighter fur colour, and probably lighter skin, than normal). This would even apply with baby bears--they do sound kind of like a kid crying when they call out to their mom.

Locally, I'm just waiting for the black bears to expand beyond the Appalachians; the state fish and game department here in KY just admitted a few years ago we have bears in KY--after one took a visit to a rest area on I-75 :D), no hunting seasons yet, but till about 2000 black bears were a sort of "cryptid" here (lots of people saw them, not officially acknowledged; there's also reports of mountain lions like that too out in eastern KY).

Sven; And don't forget the little elephant keys that you could use to let the exhibits talk to you! I grew up in Clark, so I used to go up often as a kid, but I thought they closed the place down. In fact, they almost did, but the animals were so old that they couldn't be moved and people got together to save and update the zoo, and there's a lot of construction going on there. It's no Bronx Zoo, but it's definitely a nice little zoo that has come a long way since the days of my childhood.

i would love to hunt that fucker

By caddyshack (not verified) on 05 Nov 2007 #permalink

People get excited, people misidentify what they've seen, but saying that all sasquatch sightings were actually black bear sightings is not viable.

A few objections to the hypothesis:

Not everybody is an unreliable witness.

Not all incidents occur in bad viewing conditions.

The black bear is smaller than the sasquatch.

The proportions are all wrong.

The head is the wrong shape.

Black bears do not habitually walk around on their hind legs, that's for special occasions.

Sasquatches are not nearly hairless.

Yes, there are people who see what they want to see, but to ascribe this behavior esclusively to one side of an issue is a disservice to all. Everyone can make mistakes, not everyone is willing to correct their mistakes.

BTW, the Jacob's Cryptid subject looks a lot more like a bear to me than a sasquatch. Rear legs are too short, front legs have the wrong proportions altogether, and the subject lacks buttocks. It's an habitual quadraped

Alan; Thanks for the comments. Personally, I haven't yet come across any compelling evidence for the existence of a Sasquatch (or any of the regions variants thereof), but I think a number of alleged sightings could be referred to mangy bears.

Dog; Thanks for the background information; it seems to make some sense. I've heard of cougars possibly being present in PA, myself, so maybe they'll eventually come back (at least there would be something to go after all the deer!).