Gloria Dickie, an award-winning journalist and climate correspondent for Reuters, begins her intensive study of the eight remaining species of bears by recalling the familiar children’s story of Goldilocks. “We have entered the bears’ home without permission and selfishly laid claim to what we found there,” Dickie writes in Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future, alluding to everything humans have done to endanger these creatures.
Dickie brings readers along for the global trek she took while reporting and writing this book. Eight Bears is divided into three geographic parts, according to her subjects’ habitats: South America is home to the elusive spectacled bear in Ecuador and Peru; sloth, sun, moon and panda bears live in Asia, including India, Vietnam and China; and in North America, readers meet the American black and brown bears (United States) and the polar bear (Canada).
There is a lot to learn here about the mythic panda, the shy spectacled bear, the aggressive sloth bear, the controversial grizzly, the potentially doomed polar bear and others, and Dickie shows just how vulnerable they all are. Climate change is everywhere, threatening animals and humans with droughts, deforestation, warming seas and withering food sources. Human greed, corruption and exploitation make things worse; the captors of sloth “dancing bears” in India and the extractors of bear bile in Vietnam, for example, have earned their infamy. In the U.S., the pros and cons of continuing to protect grizzlies while ranchers and farmers deal with the dire consequences of their predation are up for debate. In other parts of the world, different species are being forced to share dwindling food sources, such as the spectacled bear and the puma as lowlands warm in the Andes. Six of these eight bear species are on the verge of extinction, and in addition to outlining their peril, Dickie also speaks with several of the activists and scientists who are working to secure a better future for them.
Our relationship with bears has been complicated but tender, Dickie notes. Remember the whimsical Paddington Bear, the beloved Berenstain Bears, the cute stuffed teddy bear in a baby’s crib? And the panda bear, so idolized that it is given as a political gift to China’s favored friends? Perhaps it is just such a history that can inspire more work to save them from extinction.