Sweet animal. Why did the bear become the main symbol of Russia and what threatens these animals today?

A source: Sergey Pazhetnov, Daria Morgunova / Orphan Bear Rescue Center
For several centuries, once it came to Russia, a bear appeared in cartoons, newspaper articles and propaganda posters in the West and East. Whether he violently attacks someone, then he runs scared, then he is stupid and miserable, then he is cunning and ruthless. In general, for the planet, the bear is the embodiment of this very “mysterious Russian soul” that everyone is talking about, but no one knows what it is. Lenta.ru talks about how bears really live in Russia.

The teddy bear, nicknamed the Child, survived only by a miracle. At first, the lumberjacks accidentally scared his mother. And when the bear ran away, the orphaned baby was found and bitten by a dog. “Fortunately, people heard a creak from the cave and took Malysh and we started our journey after him,” recalls Sergey and Ekaterina Pazhetnov of the Tver Bear Rescue Center.

For more than 30 years, the center has helped teddy bears that, due to specific circumstances, have been left without a mother, survive. It was founded by the famous biologist Valentin Pazhetnov and his wife Svetlana Ivanova in 1990. After Valentin’s tragic death, his work was continued by Sergei and Ekaterina Pazetnov. Over the years, more than 240 bear lions became “graduates” of the Center: they took them out and left them behind in the woods.

Teddy bear at the age of one month A source: Sergey Pazhetnov, Daria Morgunova / Orphan Bear Rescue Center

It seems, why do bears need help? In Russia they are already doing well: bears are rarely hunted for fun and are not exterminated, as in China, for the sake of ingredients for old “miracle” recipes. However, this does not mean that they are not in danger at all. Although these animals can live up to 50 years, in the wild their average life expectancy is five times lower.

The oldest, according to the Orphan Bear Rescue Center, were two female bears hunted by hunters in the Tver region and Krasnoyarsk Territory: one turned out to be 25 and the other 36 years old.

Bears often die in fights with relatives. In addition, a pack of wolves can easily tackle a bear, especially a young one. Trophy hunters are not gone either, although recently bears have not been hunted as actively as before. Rods that woke up from hunger or left the cave in the winter for another reason, usually die at the hands of hunters and foresters or die without finding food.

Teddy bears face even more dangers. If the nurse is intimidated by people – as was the case with the Child – they will probably not survive. “In recent years, the main reason for baby orphanages is logging,” Pazhetnov told Lente.ru. – The noise of technology, human voices are serious factors for bear stress. When these factors reach the highest limit, the animal leaves its winter shelter even if it is a bear and they have remained small in the cave “.

Thousands of years ago things were different. When untouched forests covered all of Europe from modern Moscow to the Atlantic itself, it was the brown bear, one of the largest predators on earth, who was their rightful ruler.

No wonder people have always treated him with a mixture of fear and respect. Even the word “bear” is considered a euphemism by linguists. Our ancestors preferred not to pronounce the real name of the beast, so as not to cause problems.

Lubbock “The bear and the goat are shivering” | A source: LUBOK

Bear cults have been around since the Stone Age, as evidenced by the numerous petroglyphs, altars and figurines found throughout Europe. He was initially considered a great ancestor-ancestor, later many peoples living in the territory of modern Russia deified him and included him in their pantheons.

The oldest beliefs about bears, which were folded in Europe, have almost survived. In Komi mythology, which ethnographers were able to record, the bear appeared as a rational being, the son of the celestial creator Yen. The deity came down to earth for classic “bear” reasons: he loved peas terribly and could not resist temptation.

Evenki, in turn, believed that the bear was once a man. There are legends about a bear living with a woman, and they even had children. An interesting belief was born from this myth. It is believed that if a woman strips her breast in front of a ridge, she will not be attacked.

Bear Country

Russia’s reputation as a “bear country” gained much later. Historian Denis Khrustalev believes that the story of bears walking on Russian streets came about with the light hand of traveler Sigismund Herberstein, who visited Moscow in the early 16th century. “In 1526, he heard a story that there were such severe frosts in Russia that bears from the forest came to the cities, broke houses and destroyed everything there,” Khrustalev told Lente.ru.

Sigismund von Herberstein

After a time of trouble, Europeans increasingly associate Russia with bears. A typical example, according to the historian, was a drawing from the memoirs of the Italian mercenary Alexander Gvagnini, who at the end of the 16th century commanded a guard in Polotsk. It depicts Tsar Vassily Swissky against the backdrop of a forest from which bears have emerged. “This is such an indignation: on the one hand, the army and on the other, savagery,” the historian explained. The connection was strengthened only by the similarity between the Latin words russus (Russian) and ursus (bear).

There is a cannon made by the British and sent to Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov, where a funny mistake was made – the word Ursus remained, although the word Russus should have been written. In this case, it is probably not some kind of negative connotation, but rather the king of all bears, so strong and fierce.

Denis Khrustalev


In the second half of the 19th century, the satirical magazine Punch, published in Britain, began to set the tone. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled that as a child he represented the whole world through cartoons from this magazine. Russia in Punch has always been depicted as a bear. “In them, either he is terribly armed, or he negotiates with some kind of monkey, in the form of which the Neapolitan king is depicted, or he communicates with a lion, that is, Great Britain, or with some kind of eagle, and so on.” said Khrustalev.

XXII Summer Olympic Games in Moscow A source: RIA News “

In Russia, according to the historian, until recently, they did not share the increased interest in bears and certainly did not consider these animals a symbol of the country. “One of the first experiences of the positive development of this image was the Olympic Bear,” he says. “Before that, even in the Russian caricature, Russia as a bear was very rare: my colleagues and I only recorded a few cases in the late 19th century, but these were random episodes, unlike the English caricature.”

In the days of Herberstein and Guagnini, bears were already a novelty for most Europeans. It is believed that in England the last rattlesnake was killed in the 10th century and already under Shakespeare it was an exclusively imported animal, which was poisoned by dogs for the amusement of the public. Almost the same fate befell many populations of these animals over time in Western and Central Europe. As a result, Russia remains one of the few places in Europe where brown bears feel quite comfortable.

Bear bait for Queen Elizabeth I.

And sometimes they live very close to people, skillfully hiding from unnecessary attention. Behind the stories about the strength and savagery of the bear, it is often forgotten that, in fact, the meat obtained from hunting this beast is only one third of the diet, and even more often in the spring – the first months after hibernation, when there is still little plant food.

The brown bear has the most complex architecture (structure) of the brain compared to other predatory mammals. It is the brown bear that can solve difficult problems of high complexity, as proved in the experiments of Professor Leonid Viktorovich Krushinsky on the study of superior neural activity of this species.

Valentin Pazhetnov

Doctor of Biological Sciences, Founder of the Orphan Bear Rescue Center

The Pazhetnov try not only to save the little ones who are in trouble, but also to prepare them for a free life, to instill in them independence and a careful attitude towards people. The fact is that bears that have grown up in direct contact with a person do not perceive him as a threat and, as soon as they are in the wild, they will start looking for meetings to get the usual portion of goodies and affection. And such encounters can end in the saddest way for both man and beast.

Child after successful surgery A source: Sergey Pazhetnov, Daria Morgunova / Orphan Bear Rescue Center

Thus, the Pazhetnovs can not afford to treat their shaggy daughters, for example, with something sweet. “Otherwise, there is a great risk that they will be domesticated and in no case should such animals be released into the wild,” they explain.

Return of Glory

Despite the efforts of specialists and the hard upbringing, some graduates of the Center are tied to their first home. For example, a few years ago, two farmed pups were released into the wild in the Novgorod region, a few dozen kilometers from the village of Bubonitsy, in the Tver region, where the Center is located.

And 10 days later we saw one of our graduates … in a cage! How Slava found the way to his house, 70 kilometers long in a straight line from the place of liberation, because it is a mystery of nature, to which we have no answer. At the same time, on the way home, Slava carefully bypassed the settlements and was forced to cross the highway repeatedly!

Sergey and Ekaterina Pazhetnov

Employees at the Orphan Bear Rescue Center

Slava was later relocated to the Novgorod region and never returned. A similar story happened to one of the most famous graduates of the Orphan Bear Rescue Center, the bear Nora.

He left the shelter in 2009. Biologists have been working with other students for a long time, when in 2013 a female bear with three cubs appeared near the Center. Officers immediately noticed their yellow label on the animal’s ear, but it was not possible to determine which of their wards had been installed nearby for a long time.

Nora with the little ones, 2018 | A source: Sergey Pazhetnov, Daria Morgunova / Orphan Bear Rescue Center

The mother bear settled in a small swamp two kilometers from the Center and for five years was recorded by camera traps with young baby offspring. As a result, we were able to look at the label and it turned out to be Nora. Why she decided to return to her hometown, no one knows, but thanks to this act, the staff of the Center documented that their graduates not only perfectly master the wildlife, but can also give birth to offspring, preserve them and train them during the most difficult period of life – the first of the year.

On February 9, the first replacement took place in 2022 at the Center. Hunters in the Vologda area fell on bear tracks, followed them to the cave and found teddy bears that their mother had abandoned. The babies were transported urgently to the Center, where they are cared for by specialists. In late March, the newborns, named Chuk and Gek, became stronger and were already learning to walk.

An error occurred while downloading.

Leave a Comment