Last week, the Department of the Interior announced that the bears that had inspired everyone’s favorite plush toy are finally coming off the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
The Louisiana black bear was propelled to fame in the early 1900s as the inspiration for the beloved stuffed toy, after one of them had an unfortunate encounter with Theodore Roosevelt. But in the years afterward, the numbers of Louisiana black bears shrank even as the number of stuffed toys grew.
Louisiana black bears are a subspecies of black bear. They are omnivores that live in the forest near rivers, and some can grow to be over 600 pounds. They once roamed the forests of Louisiana, southern Mississippi and eastern Texas. By 1980, however, people had destroyed or modified much of this habitat, leading the bear to be listed as threatened in 1992, when as few as 150 bears were living in the wild.
Luckily, around 500 to 750 Louisiana black bears now roam the U.S.
“President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today,” Secretary Jewell said. “Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife. As I said last spring when the delisting proposal was announced, the Louisiana black bear is another success story for the Endangered Species Act.”
Teddy bears were named after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt after he refused to shoot a Louisiana black bear on a hunting trip
To get to this point of recovery, many farmers and private landowners across Louisiana helped restore or protect bear habitats (the bald cypress, oak and gum forests), eventually expanding the bears’ habitat from small fractured forests near rivers to 750,000 acres or 3,035 square kilometers of habitat.
Teddy bears owe their origins to Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, who went on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902. He refused to shoot a Louisiana black bear that had been caught by part of the hunting group (though it was later killed). His decision was honoured and cartoons of the encounter soon appeared, eventually inspiring one candy-store owner to create two stuffed bears which he called “Teddy’s” bears.
Even though they are being removed from the rolls of endangered species, it is still illegal to hunt them under Louisiana law.