1. This is a Louisiana black bear.
Don’t recognize it? If you ever had a stuffed animal toy, maybe you should.
2. The Louisiana black bear allegedly inspired an American shopkeeper to make the original teddy bear.
The story goes that way back in 1902 President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in Mississippi. Despite Roosevelt being a famously avid hunter, when his hosts captured and tied up a black bear (intending to give it to him as an easy trophy), Roosevelt refused to shoot the animal, saying it was unsportsmanlike.
The press eventually got hold of this story, and this excellent cartoon was born:
Well, the story goes on to say that the cartoon was seen by a shop owner named Morris Michtom. Now, at this time there were other stuffed bear toys around, but it was apparently Michtom who first called them “Teddy’s bears,” which proved immensely popular and eventually turned into teddy bears.
3. While many subspecies of of black bears are thriving, the Louisiana black bear in particular have been struggling.
There are 16 different subspecies of black bears, and most have been doing well, but the ones in Louisiana haven’t been doing so hot.
Part of this is because while Roosevelt didn’t shoot that captured bear, other Louisiana bear hunts continued on. And it wasn’t just that: As people chopped down the forests, the black bears were losing their homes. This one-two punch dropped the population of Louisiana black bears to under a hundred.
4. But thanks to a lot of people working hard to restore its home, the iconic Louisiana black bear finally has a brighter future ahead.
In the 1992, the government, recognizing the bear’s plight, added the Louisiana black bear to its list of endangered species, granting it special federal protections.
Now, more than two decades later, it’s been declared that the Louisiana black bear population has recovered. So much that they’re going to be removed from the list of federally protected species. A lot of that is thanks to landowners helping to restore the forests the black bears depend on as homes.
5. That’s great news for a true icon! Why so iconic, you ask? Well, they didn’t just give us teddy bears; they were also the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.
Despite the more well known image nowadays of Winnie-the-Pooh as a tan bear in a red shirt, it’s a black bear who gave him his name.
The original A.A. Milne character was based on his son’s stuffed bear (originally called Edward Bear), who was later renamed “Winnie” after meeting a real-life and somewhat famous Canadian black bear named Winnie at the London Zoo during World War I. (The “Pooh” comes from an encounter with a swan).
6. Black bears even stayed at the White House.
President Calvin Coolidge kept a pet black bear in the White House. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt also had pet bears, but we don’t know the species, unfortunately.
7. Which is kind of amazing, considering they can weigh half a ton.
That was the weight of the biggest black bear even seen, although the typical specimen is more like 400-500 pounds.
8. Their size doesn’t stop black bears from being super athletes.
They’re also quite good at swimming and can run 30 miles per hour.
9. Believe it or not, black bears aren’t just black.
Black bears aren’t just great at sports; they’re fashion models too! They can be blueish, brown, cinnamon-colored, or even white. The white ones aren’t albinos, by the way. That’s just what their fur looks like.
10. Some of their relatives, like these sun bears, look a little goofy.
American black bears are most closely related to the Asian black bear and the Internet meme-inspiring sun bear.
11. But their ancestors were mega-awesome.
All bears are descended from big, ancient predators known as “bear dogs.” Guess who else is descended from bear dogs? (Hint: It’s dogs.)
12. Black bears generally aren’t picky eaters…
Black bears are omnivores, which means they’ll eat both plants and animals. And yes, they do eat honey, although they also love the bee grubs as well.
13. …but with a sense of smell that is seven times better than dogs’, black bears often find themselves in trouble when they go digging for food in trash cans and campsites.
Black bears also have pretty good hearing and vision. They can even see in color like humans.
14. Black bears, like many animals, would prefer to not run into humans.
Black bears are usually pretty shy and would rather run from people than fight them. But in places where bears have gotten too used to eating trash or getting handouts, they lose that fear of humans and can get aggressive.
15. That’s partly why many campsites in bear country ask people to keep their sites clean and to not feed the bears.
16. Keeping bears away from our campsites and homes is good for us and for them; that’s why it’s such welcome news to hear that conservation efforts have given Teddy’s bears their homes back.
While we might purposefully invite teddy bears into our homes, it’s heartening to see that the Louisiana black bear has a home of its own again.
17. Thanks to these efforts, it looks like Teddy’s bears will be with us for a long time.
Scientists say the population will be safe for at least the next 100 years, and removing them from the government’s endangered species list won’t remove their protections. It just means that the state will take over their care instead of the federal government.
So it looks like we won’t be losing our real-life teddy bears anytime soon.