Centuries of hunt and persecutions have led to a huge decrease in bear number. Even when the bears are not directly killed, human activities are threatening the species. Demographic increase, deforestation, expanding infrastructures and agricultural areas are fragmenting more and more the bear habitats, impacting strongly his life. Seen as a threat and fought as an enemy, the animal has already disappeared from lots of regions where he used to live and he is threatened almost all over the world.
However, despite this disappearance from the wilderness, the bear came back to men’s lives in an unexpected way with the invention of the “Teddy Bear” at the beginning of the 20th century. The more famous and widely accepted story of the creation of the Teddy Bear is linked to the American president Theodore Roosevelt. In 1902, after few days of unsuccessful hunt by the president, one of his associates had the idea to tie a bear cub to a tree so the president could easily shoot him. Roosevelt refused to kill the bear and this story appeared in newspapers, in cartoons illustrating the merciful president.
A Brooklyn candies and toys shop owner saw the cartoon and had the idea to make stuffed toy bears, in reference to the president. The success was huge and in few years the handmade production became industrial.
Become the most famous of the zoomorphic toys, the bear has entered all the homes and children’s rooms. He is also a star in children books and in cartoons, and a large number of bears have become icons, like Winnie the Pooh, Baloo, Michka, etc. The bear is thus populare again, but not as a real and wild animal living in the woods: he became a toy. He may live in the forest as Winnie the Pooh but also is a house, as Paddington. The bear is not an animal anymore, he is just a talking toy with human-like behavior.
Endowed with positive qualities, like loyalty or friendliness, the teddy bear became the more faithful and reassuring of the figures of our childhood. While real bears are seen as fierce and dangerous animals, their stuffed alter-ego are loved, seen as soft and comforting. Thus, the number of toy bears growing and outnumbering the number of real bears, the teddies fill the need for tenderness of humans who are leading bears into extinction.
Next time you hug your Teddy bear, perhaps you could think about what you could do for real bears 😉