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Ask A Bear: Can You Be Domesticated?

Looking for a furry friend? A tame bear is definitely not it.

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bearpacker 2022

Q: Are there such a thing as domesticated bears, and where can I get one? —Proud Pet Papa

A: What, don’t like dogs? Yeah, me neither. Keep ’em on a leash, people!

Short answer: No, there’s no such thing as a domesticated bear. To understand why, it’s important to know what “domesticated” means. Basically, a domesticated animal is a creature that has lived with humans so long that they’ve slowly adapted on a genetic level, taking on traits that people find valuable and losing ones that they find inconvenient. Wolves turned into dogs by becoming cuter, more obedient, and better able to digest a wider variety of foods while losing their wariness of people. Wild aurochs became cattle by shrinking and becoming more apt to live in large groups. Cats…well, they’re still assholes, but you have thousands of years of domestication to thank for them only biting you some of the time.

Bears? We’re still just bears. We may be more used to people thanks to habitat encroachment, and we may have learned how to break into your houses in search of the sweet, sweet treats you keep in your refrigerator. But aside from that, we live pretty much like our ancestors did, digging up roots, nabbing fish out of rivers, and avoiding people whenever possible. Could we be domesticated? Maybe, but you’d need a few thousand free years, and probably nine lives, to find out.

The “domesticated” bears you’ve seen in movies and on TV are more properly called tame: They’re unmodified wild animals that grew accustomed to interacting closely with people with time and training. The luckiest ones, who live in wildlife shelters or work with Hollywood trainers, have expert humans who know how to minimize their risks and give them the best quality of life possible in captivity. The unlucky ones, like the “dancing” bears still occasionally seen in parts of the world, are ruled mostly by fear and physical abuse. What they all have in common is that they’re wild animals at heart. If they have a bad day and the people interacting with them aren’t experienced enough to pick up what they’re putting down, the result could be a mauling or worse.

All that’s to say, you’re unlikely to find a bear at your local animal shelter any time soon. Want a fuzzy pet that definitely won’t rip your arm off? I recommend a guinea pig.


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