While thankfully, due to modern day conservation efforts, the practice is in decline, Grizzly Bears, and indeed other species of bears, have been hunted by some cultures for centuries. Hunters have always favoured them as a prize because of their perceived ferocity and size, but hunting practices vary depending on location, species, and laws.
Hunting methods and the reasons for hunting these magnificent animals have also changed throughout history.
Pelts for Warmth
People hunt bears for a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is for their pelt. A bears fur comprises two layers: the under fur, which is thick, soft and insulating, and the outer guard hairs that are coarser and protect the animal from dirt, insects and debris. While the fur of Grizzly Bears has always been sought after, it was the fur of the Black Bears that was held as more valuable in the American West. The animals’ fur was used to make the bearskins that were used as part of a uniform of many army regiments. In other parts of the world, the Inuit use the fur of Polar Bears to make warm clothing.
Throughout history, bear meat has always been considered a delicacy, although in the Middle Ages it served a more symbolic than culinary purpose. In Russian and Ainu cultures bear meat was eaten regularly and paws and thighs were believed to be the tastiest parts. The Inuit, of course, eat Polar Bears and often bake or boil the meat into a stew. (Polar Bear liver is highly toxic due of the high levels of vitamin A, so the meat has to be well cooked.) Whatever species, bear meat is an acquired taste, being sweet, coarse and greasy. The fat was historically used in cooking by American settlers and Native Americans and also used to fuel lamps.
Some Native American tribes used bear fat for medicinal purposes and in Chinese medicine it is the gall bladder that is highly sought after. Traditional Chinese medicine denotes that the urso-deoxycholic acid found in a bears gall bladder can help combat rheumatism, gallstones and bad eyesight.
So, as with most animals, throughout history Grizzly Bears have been hunted mainly because of the value placed on their physical attributes. With today’s more forward thinking conservation efforts focusing on the preservation instead of decimation of the world’s wildlife, the Grizzly Bears, along with their cousins from other species, can look forward to a far more certain future and some level of protection from human hunters.