Can’t Live Without ‘Em: Louisiana Black Bears

*NEW COLUMN*: A weekly homage to endangered species, large and small

Today is Endangered Species Day, and that means it’s time to pay homage to all those critters large and small, charismatic and not, that keep the world turning. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting a handful of imperiled plants and animals that benefit the environment and the economy, alternating each week between familiar and oft-forgotten wildlife. Each one is a vital part of the web of life that provides clean air, clean water and a healthy environment for generations to come. And each one should give us a chance to reflect on the incredible diversity of plants and animals that we are fighting to protect.

“Teddy’s” bear

Louisiana black bear (aka "Teddy's Bear")

To coincide with the end of Bear Awareness Week, we’re starting with the most iconic of all animals—the teddy bear.

Ever wonder where those cute and cuddly stuffed kids toys got their name? Back in 1902, President Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt was on a hunting expedition down south and refused to shoot a Louisiana black bear that others had captured and tied to a tree. A newspaper cartoonist poked fun at the President by drawing a fuzzy, stuffed bear that he called “Teddy’s bear.” The name stuck.

The Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) is subspecies of the American black bear that was once found throughout the bottomland hardwood forests of eastern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and southern Arkansas. At the time of President Roosevelt’s teddy bear incident, nearly all of them were gone and populations remained low throughout the 20th century. By 1992 when the species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, just a few hundred survived as a result of habitat loss, poaching and vehicle collisions.

Today, Louisiana black bears are on a path to recovery thanks to increased awareness and local conservation efforts. Through the efforts of the Black Bear Conservation Committee, a coalition of local businesses, concerned citizens and wildlife agencies, bears have become a source of pride and a hot commodity. Each year, between 5,000 and 7,000 people attend the Bayou Teche Bear Festival in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, to learn about bears, take field trips and enjoy good food and music. The festival was named the #1 “Best New Event” in 2006 by the Louisiana Association of Fairs and Festivals and has since expanded to include bird watching as well.

Other towns are getting in on the action too. Some 6,000 people attend the Great Delta Bear Affair in Rolling Hills, Mississippi to tour local wilderness areas and give their best Roosevelt impersonation.

In 2001, wildlife watching in Louisiana totaled nearly $370 million even before the influx of tourism dollars for the bear festival. It’s investments like these that make wildlife conservation a boon to local economies in addition to a vital part of the environment.

Click here to learn more about what Defenders is doing to protect America’s bears.

Celebrate Endangered Species Day!

If you’re not already partying down for ES Day, take a look at this list of events. Defenders is officially partaking in at least two of these (listed below), so drop on by if you’re in the neighborhood.

Endangered Species Day Fair in DC
Friday, May 20, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Stop by the Defenders table!)
U.S. Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20001
Washington, DC 20001

Live Wolverine and Movie at ZooMontana
Meet Cass, a wolverine from ZooMontana then watch PBS Nature’s feature documentary, “Chasing the Phantom.” Stay for a panel discussion with the film’s director and other wolverine experts including Defenders own David Gaillard.

Friday, May 20, 5:30 p.m.
2100 S Shiloh Road
Billings, MT
Get more details here
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Visit our Wildlife Adoption Center to adopt a black bear or one of our 26 other imperiled animals today!

Get the Bear Facts

Saving America's Bears Fact SheetDownload our Saving America’s Bears fact sheet to learn about the threats facing bears in the United States today, what Defenders of Wildlife is doing to protect them—and what you can do to help.