To most Americans the word "bear" suggests Smokey, Yogi, Pooh and those endearingly awkward animals— "Look! Just like teddy bears!"—who beg for peanuts and popcorn in the nation's zoos. Judging from the letters we have thus far received, a good many readers have been shocked by Jack Olsen's chilling series, The Grizzly Bear Murder Case—the third and final installment of which begins on page 36. It is hard to accept the fact that the zoo image is not the real image and that the captive bear conceals his hatred of man only because he has no choice. We hope the menacing grizzly shown on the cover—chosen from a number of photographs made for SI in the San Diego, Chicago and Central Park zoos—will help reinforce Olsen's conclusion that man and bear cannot peacefully coexist in the wild.
This is an article from the May 26, 1969 issue
The cover bear came to the San Diego Zoo with his brother in May 1961 when they were both three months old. They had been orphaned in Yellowstone National Park and were too young to fend for themselves. Now they weigh about 750 pounds each and measure about seven feet from nose to tail. George Long, who took their pictures for us, reports, "I would hold up an apple or slice of bread and they would beg for it. When I didn't throw it to them, they would snarl at me—the perfect picture situation. I would shoot the picture, then throw them the prize, which they caught every time. Some children came along with gumdrops—the bears could catch a gumdrop at 30 feet!"
Our photographers in Chicago and New York got similar evidence of the captive bears' philosophy—"If you can't beat it, join it or duck it." In Chicago, Bob Lightfoot made these notes on his assignment: "Pack cameras, exotic telephotos, motors, etc., head for zoo. On arrival purchase peanuts, marshmallows, hot dogs, Coke. First two for bears, last two for self. Go to bear pit, set up tripod, survey scene. Bears are asleep. Helpful onlookers bombard bears with marshmallows, peanuts and profanity. Bears wake up. Official comes, takes me to edge of moat and jumps around to make bears look fierce, says not to fall in—bears never go in moat except to eat people. Give edge of moat plenty of room. Bears yawn a lot, look really fierce. Trainer comes up, throws rye bread while other zoo man jumps around. After three hours we run out of bread, peanuts, marshmallows. Bears go back to sleep. I leave."
In New York, Photographer Phillip Leonian's wife Edith reported: "The bear, 15 years old, looked more fluffy than grizzled in his new spring coat. After consulting with the keeper, Phil armed himself with Cracker Jacks to maneuver the bear to where he could be photographed without showing bars. The first day's shooting ended when the bear dived into his pool, shook himself off and retreated to his napping corner. The keeper announced, 'Now he'll sleep for three hours.' The second day, Phil set up his equipment, and the bear dived into the pool again. While waiting for the bear to dry, the keeper told stories of cruelty—of people to bears. The keepers regularly remove broken glass from the cage. They feel their main function is to protect the animals from the people."
And that, of course, is entirely proper in zoos, where a large bear is defenseless against a small child. But in the wilderness even a human giant is powerless against a medium-sized grizzly bear, an animal capable of breaking a horse's back with one swipe of his mighty paw. As Olsen points out, tourists, campers and hikers need to remember—and so does the National Park Service—that the friendly bear with the Boy Scout hat is a purely fictional creation.