The medicinal bear

MedicineBearBear has always been an important symbol in many cultures, all over the world. Pagan rites, myths and legends, names, heraldic emblems… the mystical power of the bear appears in an amazingly wide range of cultural elements. Through centuries, he has been strongly venerated and respected for his strength but as well believed to hold other powers. One example is his medicinal knowledge and healing capacities.

Indeed, in different cultures, the bear is said to hold a considerable power, an unnatural strength coming from all the parts of his body. For many pagan cultures, he is a “doctor”. The Buryats (aboriginal Siberian group) even say that “the whole bear is a cure”. The properties of the bear medicines are very diverse. For example, in Asia, their bile has been used to cure various diseases and their teeth to treat toothache. The Kalac (Russia) collected frozen bear excrement as a cure for constipation while the Eskimos believed that a sterile woman should eat a raw penis. The Blackfoot (American Indians) derived the power of their medicine pipes from various bear concoctions and could intensify the power of the pipe by being dressed with grizzly skins.

In the Balkans, where the dancing bear tradition was very strong, the bear leaders used the animal as having magical healer properties. When someone was ill, it was possible to pay a bear master to make the bear dancing in front of the house. Breathing smoke or eating ashes from burnt bear hair was also used to reduce fever. In order to heal arthritis, rheumatism or fever, the patient should lie on his stomach so the bear could walk on his back. Thus, the animal was supposed to transmit his power and to take the weaknesses upon himself. In some cases, the bear could have a bad influence. For instance, pregnant women should not watch a dancing bear or this could give a bad temperament to the child.

03 Dancing bear

But the bear was not only a “medicine”. According to various tribal accounts, he also knew how to heal himself and so to be a master healer. Thus, many tribes (Cheyenne, Eastern Cree, Penobscot, etc.) have believed that it is possible to learn what plants are beneficial to human health only by watching what the bear eats. They also believed that their Shamans, sometimes called “bear doctor”, received their healing powers from bears. For the Tewa tribe (American Indians), the word kieh, or “doctor”, is even synonymous of “bear”.

While the bears are losing their place in the world of men, it’s as well all the traditional believes and knowledge linked to wilderness which is disappearing.  It’s not truth of the old faiths which really matters (you can doubt of the medical efficiency of bears’ excrements ;-)) but more the bond to nature, the values and respect going with it, the testimony of a former way of life which was probably far wiser and reasonable than the one of today.


Bears and humans have wandered the earth together for millennia. Bears have lumbered around in our memories and our dreams. They have given us comfort and have inhabited our fears. Over time and among many peoples, humans have shared a kinship with bears. If we lose the bear we lose not only an important part of our rich natural heritage but a part of ourselves.” Robert E. Bieder

New bears coming to the world

Bear cubs Kuterevo

In these first days of the year, while people all around the world are celebrating the entrance in 2013 and wishing happiness to each other, bears are in their hibernation period and not so many people think about them and what will happen to them during the coming months. The winter time doesn’t necessary mean that the bears are deeply sleeping in their caves or winter dens. They might sometimes go out of their long sleep and enjoy a bit the sun of January 🙂 Whatever the weather, the very beginning of the year stays the time for bear mothers to give birth to their cubs (from 1 to 4).  These very little animals, only 300-350g at birth (as small as kittens!), come to life blind and hairless. Their survival depends on their mother, her care for them, the contact with her body to stay warm. She will feed them in the den, with her rich milk, while she is not even eating but just using the resources of fat stored during autumn for her needs and the ones of her cubs.

At the beginning of the spring, the little bears will start discovering the world with their mother. For the whole year and the next winter, they will stay with her, learning how to survive, how to find food, how to protect themselves in the forest but as well from human activities and infrastructures (roads, trains, villages…).


The next year, they will leave the protection of their mother, now strong and experienced enough to live alone in the wild. However, young bears from the same litter will most of the time stay together for a while, stronger as a group for the beginnings in their independance.

Every year in Croatia, cubs lose their mothers during their first months of existence, due to hunting, poaching, traffic accidents, or other causes not always identified (cubs being separated from their mothers crossing a road, getting scared of something…).

Alone in the wild, they can survive if they are already old and strong enough, but most of the time they will starve or be victims of predators. Some of them might be “saved” by people, who will find them, feed them, pet them, by wanting to help but actually making them accustomed to human presence. These surviving cubs will thus become “nuisance bears”, staying close to villages, looking for easy food around human settlements. Having lost their natural fear for people, they might make damages or be dangerous, getting too close to people who do not know how to react facing bears. Once in this situation, few solutions are available. The bear can be “removed” from the place… or it can be decided to send him to Kuterevo, where he will get the chance to survive but never to enjoy his freedom in the wild nature…


For this new year, we can only wish that more people will realize how important are bears and wilderness. And that they will really act and change their habits for a better coexistence…


“Bears keep me humble. They help me to keep the world in perspective and to understand where I fit on the spectrum of life. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves, and for the dreams of children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended upon it, because it does.”  Wayne Lynch, Bears: Monarch of the Northern Wilderness, 1993.

Snow is here

Although we had a little bit of snow at the end of October, now snow really came to Kuterevo. Before coming here, I (Marco) heard a lot about how cold the winter is in Kuterevo. During all my life I have been living in the hot city of Murcia, southeast of Spain, and I had only seen the snow in postcards and on the internet. Also, as you know, I like meteorology, and low temperatures and snow are for me an awaited event. Finally a couple of weeks ago, after checking the weather forecast every day, I could see my dream made reality: Snow is here! Snow started to fall on 30th of November and it keeps up more or less on the ground until now. But the maximum of snow was last weekend when we had half a meter, and after that, at the beginning of this week, we had about -15 ºC.


But, how is the daily life in these conditions? Snow creates a beautiful landscape and also funny moments. For example snow fights while you are trying to go to the compost toilet, even if you don´t want to, and of course making snow men. However, it is also hard work and uncomfortable moments. You have to clean the snow early in the morning and try to take breakfast with your frozen hands. When it is very cold we don´t have drinkable water and we need to carry water in bottles from our neighbors. I especially love the moment of going to the toilet. You really enjoy that moment, you can feel how the fresh air goes from down in your back to your legs. In that way you really appreciate having a toilet inside your house. Also you need to be careful on the way to the toilet, because while you are walking on the icy path, you can slide and fall down. We don´t recommend using coklije, even though it is a traditional kind of shoes and really warm, but when walking in the frozen snow, sooner or later you will fall.


And, how are the bears living the beginning of the winter? They are now going to their winter dream. We started to give them the straw for preparing their beds before the snow came. Although they reduce their activity during winter, they don´t sleep all the day and when they wake up they sometimes walk a little around the den. They don´t eat during their hibernation, so we need to stop giving them food. Before that we gave them a lot of food full of energy like nuts, corn and fruits, because they need to get fat to survive all the winter.At first we stopped feeding the adult bears. Four out of six have already been sleeping for a while (but have woken up again now), like Vlado Mir and Hu Bear. A week ago we stopped feeding Mladi Dol and Mlada Gora, but they are still awake. We still feed Marko Kralj every day and he is enjoying the snow playing with his friend, a dog called Doci.