On the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where I gave a talk yesterday, there is a statue of a brown bear. It’s hard to miss. The 7-foot tall bronze bear which has weathered to a green patina stands on its hind legs on top of a stone pedestal, towering over onlookers.
I took a photo of the whole figure, but when I got closer, I could read the inscription on the base:
Given By Alumni And Undergraduates
To Brown University
To Symbolize Those Qualities Of
Strength Courage Endurance
Which Go Far To Make Men Invincible
What struck me as I stared at this bear was that the characteristics that “go far to make men invincible”–strength, courage, and endurance–are precisely the characteristics that make bears vulnerable. Bruno the bear, who I discussed in an earlier post, exhibited those qualities when he made his trek from Italy into Germany, reintroducing bears to Germany on his own. He was looking for new territory, but in the process began damaging farmers’ property. He was labelled as trangressor, not courageous bear, and was killed.
In August 2014, another brown bear in Italy, Danzia became vulnerable because of her strength, courage, and endurance. In the northern Italian province of Trentino, 10 bears from Slovenia were reintroduced from 1999 to 2002. The population has since soared to 40-60 animals. This could be a reintroduction success story, but with growing bear numbers, they are tended to come into contact more and more with human inhabitants of Trentino. In Danzia’s case, she had a pair of cubs and when a man out picking mushrooms came too close–she attacked him. The man survived the attack but suffered bites and scratches. Officials decided to try to capture Danzia, although it is not clear what their plan was for her after capture. When she was finally shot with an anaesthetic dart, she never woke up. Her nine-month old cubs were left to fend for themselves, but at that young age, likely did not survive. Here was a mother, protecting her babies with her strength, courage, and endurance, who was subsequently killed for those qualities.
In reintroduction projects, people don’t want to be faced with animals that are strong, courageous, or enduring. They want animals that are meek, acquiescent, and invisible. That’s the way for the animal to stay out of conflict with humans. Of course, the problem is that many animals, like the brown bear, display those qualities that we find so appealing for humans and so objectionable for animals. While those qualities make men nearly invincible, they make animals vulnerable.