Manual Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behaviour and Emotional Life of Bears

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She was going to be introduced to other bears, so it was imperative to be with her when she was eating [to teach her how to share]. We would crack nuts together. I did it with a rock and then showed her there was something inside. One day she was in a mood and not her usual jovial self.

Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Life of Bears

She started cracking nuts. Then she made this gutteral noise and bit my hand. That was her signal to stop doing whatever it was I was doing and watch her while she demonstrated the bear way of doing things.

Her genetics had kicked in. It's taken a lot of time spent knowing bears personally in the captive community, and it has happened little by little. It's embarrassing to say that it took several years of working around bears before I understood that they smile. Bears smile just like we do.


  1. Smiling Bears by Else Poulsen, Stephen Herrero | Waterstones.
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They pull each side of their mouth upwards. They smile for their reasons of self-contentment, just like we humans smile for our reasons of self-contentment. It's just that our reasons may not be the same. A human mother may smile if her child does something that she finds funny. A bear mom will smile if her cubs do something cute or something that she finds contentment in. That's the similarity.

But in other cases, a grizzly bear in Montana might smile when he reaches the top of the mountain and finds thousands and thousands of larvae up there that he can eat.

Former Calgary Zoo animal expert, Else Poulsen, pens book about rescued polar bear

I wouldn't be smiling about that. It doesn't mean anything to me. Bears express emotion based on what matters to them in their bear world. Intrinsically, we recognize anger and annoyance in a bear as growling or spitting or standing on its hind legs and giving you the evil eye and maybe batting at the air or something like that. We're used to seeing it in the movies. But we as a society have been slow to allow animals to have the converse feelings of love, happiness, joy—those kinds of things.

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We think only humans can have those feelings. Every bear is an individual just like every human is an individual. There are really three parts of a bear's personality. Every bear is utterly and completely convinced of being a bear. Polar bears have a genetic expectation to live in an Arctic environment. Sun bears have an expectation to live in the jungle. Panda bears have an expectation to eat bamboo. With bears there is also a nature versus nurture.

Mom will take her youngster around and show the youngster what parts of the environment are useful and how to use it. That's one aspect of it. Bears are smart, just like we are, and our personal history has a huge bearing on what we do, just like for bears.


  1. About the author.
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  3. Sagesse Intérieure (French Edition).

The last part of what makes up a bear is the current environment. UK residents should be able to find most if not all of these books on Amazon.

Good second hand copies of many of these books are often available on Amazon and on Alibris. It should be possible to borrow most if not all of these books via your local library.

Readers will grin, bear Ontario scientist's memoir - Winnipeg Free Press

Smiling Bears by Else Poulsen. A zookeeper explores the behaviour and emotional life of bears. Highly recommended. Few people have known bears as intimately as Else Poulsen did. This remarkable book reveals the many insights about bears and their emotional lives that she gained through her years of work with them.

She has also felt the hateful stare of one bear that she could not befriend, and she has grieved in the abject horror of captivity for a sun bear in Indonesia.