Bear Kinship

Bear Spirit

About Bears


The thing about bears that perhaps fascinates people the most is their remarkable intelligence. They are the most intelligent native nonhuman animals in North America, and many modern bear biologists accredit them with the equivalent IQ of the great apes, some even dare give them the equivalent intelligence of a 3-year-old human.

Now, this isn't very remarkable by our standards, because 3-year-olds aren't very smart, and certainly can't theoretically formulate the existence of undetectable black holes and dark matter, or engineer interstellar spacecraft, but how much of a difference in brain structure or intelligence does such a leap in cognitive ability require? ...When it all comes down to it, pretty much just a few extra ounces of neural tissue on the outer layer of the cerebrum. That, along with the acquired knowledge of our forefathers, and the will, explorative curiosity and fascination and determination to discover and unravel new mysteries. ...that's what separates the mind of a three year old, a bear, an ape or a dolphin from the mind of Steven Hawking or Albert Einstein.

...far greater a difference and advancement in cogition is the difference between an autonomic brain that only serves as an organ of controlling basic bodily function, like that of an aurthropod or lesser vertebrate, or that of a sophisticated brained mammal with the capacity for subjective emotion and basic reasoning and understanding of simple concepts. These are abilities that most large-brained carnivores and primates share, and we should all feel kinship towards each other as common kin in this ability.

When it comes to loving animals, it can be easy to have a bit of a bias in admiring the more brainy animals. This can be due to a natural human feeling of incontendedness in the laid down scientific dogma that humans are extremely unique and alone on Earth. It just doesn't evolutionarily make sense. We didn't just evolve from nothing, all the mammals are related to us in some way, they're our cousins, and all of our brains must share at least some basic similarity in function and capacity. Where else would our capabilities have originated from? There is no reasonable denying that the evolutionary development of our modern brains stems from common roots; in the level of sophisticated higher brain functioning that many of our close mammalian relatives share.

...So now we shall explore the intelligence of one of the 'brainiest' of the mammals, the bears.

...I wish I had better documented sources for all of these facts and anecdotal info, but all I can say is that it comes mostly from things found in the writings by Ben Kilham, Steven Stringham, Charlie Russell, and Lynn Rogers. All of it is as true as their words. So enjoy!


here is an excerpt form Lynn Rogers' overview of bear intelligence:

Black Bears:

-Large brain compared to body size.

-One of the more intelligent mammals.

-Navigation ability superior to humans.

-Excellent long-term memory.

-Can generalize to the simple concept level.

"Bears may be the most intelligent of the North American mammals according to their brain structure, the experience of animal trainers, and tests at the Psychology Department of the University of Tennessee. Grizzly bear mothers spend 1˝ to 3˝ years showing their cubs where and how to obtain food. The cubs’ ability to form mental maps and remember locations may exceed human ability."

Ben Kilham says bears have intelligence comparable to that of the great apes.

A biologists in British Columbia that has studied bears for 20 years estimates their intelligence to be at about the same level as a 3-year-old human.

Famous bear trainer Doug Seuss claims that his brown bear Bart must have been at least as intelligent as a chimpanzee, and according to him Bart wasn't even an extraordinarily intelligent individual as far as brown bears went.


-Bears using sticks, branches, etc, to scratch themselves

-Bears picking up and throwing objects such as rocks during play, sometimes at random, sometimes aiming at each other (!!!)

-Polar Bears throwing chunks of ice at walruses to bludgeon them and knock them out

-other more complex usage of tools has been allegedly observed before in bears, for instance, Doug Seuss's kodiak grizzly Bart picked up and carried a wooden board to a thorny bramble set it down over it, and used it as a 'bridge' to walk over the thorny bramble safely so he could get to a coke can he found in the middle of it.

-During Charlie Russell's bear co-existence study in Kamchatka, a wild mother brown bear named "Brandy" would sometimes leave her cubs behind with Charlie, and then go off by herself to forage, using Charlie as a "babysitter" for her cubs. ...does this qualify as bears using humans as tools? it's a bit of a leap, but worth mentioning...


-It is not known wether bears are capable of having self-awareness, such a capacity is very iffy, about 75% of chimps can recognize their reflection in a mirror, but 25% never figure it out. Self-awareness is no absolute or certain capability, and it is so strange that there is no real certainty that an animal is actually thinking "Hey! I'm an animal! How cool is that!" When was the last time you thought that? It's true, I swear, go look in a mirror...

-in cases in which bears see their reflection, the reaction at first is usually being frightened at it or swatting at it with a paw, but sometimes bears also appear to be mystified and fascinated with their reflection, sometimes staring at it with curiosity for long periods of time or licking and biting at the reflective surface to test its substance. Does this mean they're figuring out that it's not another bear but perhaps their own reflection? Do they ever think "Hey! I'm a bear, How cool is that!" There's no way anyone can know this for certain so there's not even any point in discussing it.


-many people have witnessed bears in the wild partaking in unusual behavior such as sitting still for long periods of time in one spot doing apparently nothing but staring at scenic vistas such as sunsets, lakes and mountains. There is very little explanation as to what use or purpose is in this behavior except in theorizing that the bears merely find such views to be aesthetic and "beautiful".


-In some cases bears care for each other, especially mothers for their cubs and siblings for each other. They will risk their lives, even fight to the death defending their own cubs or siblings from danger in some cases.

-bears do grieve for others, bear cubs wail when hunters shoot their mothers in front of them, and will moan and cry for weeks afterward in apparent grief. Although they may emotionally recover faster than humans do, they are not without love and altruism for others, and are deeply hurt, perhaps for life, when someone dear to them is taken away.


Is any of this true or for certain? Can any of it be firmly proven by science? It can't be said, and probably can't be proven or certified in the mind of any objectively rational scientist. It might even be redundant and pointless to speculate all of this, as intelligence is such an immensely complex, multifaceted realm that we still know very, very little about, I don't want to be misleading anyone here. Intelligence is certainly NOT something that can just be measured like body temperature, and an IQ number is just totally irrelevant. Some people might even say that most animals are "smarter" than us, because there are so many things about life they know about that we have forgotten, and so many things we can't understand or comprehend that they can. Bears can't compose rap music or invent an atomic bomb, but they can create mental maps better than we can. In what other ways would they surprise us if we could truly peer into their minds? When it all comes down to it, when all of this is put into consideration, how can anyone measure something as immeasurable as intelligence so rashly? Do we even have any idea what intelligence really is?

...Are we not just dumb animals ourselves, a bunch of cranium-scratching primates still trying to figure all of this out? Perhaps the only one that really has his mind around things is a force greater and higher than all of us...


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