Yes, Some Have Kept Bears As Pets — but Here's Why You Shouldn't


Aug. 21 2023, Published 12:54 p.m. ET

During World War II, a brown bear fought the Nazis alongside Polish soldiers. The story of Wojtek, the soldier bear, is remarkable — but not something that happens every day.

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There are other stories of people keeping bears as pets. So, is it a good idea to have a bear as a pet? Can bears be domesticated like a dog or cat?

A mother grizzly bear and two cubs.
Source: Getty Images
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Can bears be domesticated?

The short answer is no, bears can’t be domesticated. Sure, some people have raised bears as pets, but it’s not necessarily advised. For example, a Russian couple rescued a brown bear cub in 1993 and raised him as part of their family. The bear, Stepan, grew from a small undernourished cub to a 7-foot-tall, 700-pound behemoth.

While YouTube videos show the giant bear cuddling on the couch, playing ball, and eating dinner with his owners, make no mistake, he is an apex predator much better suited to be out in the wild than in your living room.

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“Most people think that they take a wild animal and they love it and they treat it just right that somehow they will get it to surrender its natural instincts. That’ll never happen,” said Jeff “the Bear Man” Watson, who lived with two grizzly bears he raised from cubs. He and the bears were featured in the Animal Planet show Project Grizzly.

“You can never tame a bear. You can train one, but you can never tame one,” Watson said in an interview with the Beastly YouTube channel.

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Why can’t bears be domesticated?

Bears can’t be domesticated because they don’t have the characteristics an animal needs to be domesticated. According to an article in Popular Mechanics, author Jared Diamond outlines six characteristics an animal must possess to be able to be domesticated in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel. Those characteristics are: “a diverse appetite, rapid maturation, willingness to breed in captivity, docility, strong nerves, and a nature that conforms to social hierarchy.”

When it comes to diet, bears are primarily omnivores that feed on a diverse diet of plants, fish, roots, berries, and other animals. Bears need to eat a lot to sustain themselves. Stepan’s humans told Russia Beyond in 2016 that the bear ate 55 pounds of fruit and vegetables daily.

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Bears also grow quickly. A cute, cuddly bear cub can grow to almost 200 pounds within the first year of life, per the North American Bear Center.

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And docility is not a trait that most bears have in their wheelhouse. Bears are apex predators who can be aggressive and territorial. They primarily have solitary lifestyles in the wild unless they are females with cubs. They have also been known to attack humans on occasion.

Grizzly bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell found out the hard way that bears should be appreciated at a distance. The movie Grizzly Man documented Treadmill’s life living among the bears, sometimes even petting and playing with them. Ultimately, the bears he lived so close to killed him and his girlfriend.

“Most people don’t have pets that can kill them,” Watson told Beastly. “These are wild animals, they are apex carnivores, and they rule the roost.”

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