Bear! Espèces d’ours!
After being charged by an adult male grizzly bear this fall in Yellowstone National Park and shouting “Bear!” for real John and Lisa (read the Yellowstone press release here and listen to John tell the story here) were amused to return to Paris to find an exhibition entitled The World of Bears or Espèces d’ours! at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. So they trotted right over to see what the museum had to say about bears.
It turns out there are 8 species of bears in the world. The grizzly bear John and Lisa encountered, called Ursus arctos horribilis in scientific nomenclature, is a subspecies of the brown bear. It is also less commonly known as the silvertip bear. Scientists generally do not use the name grizzly bear but call it the North American brown bear to distinguish it from the European or Asian brown bear. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark called it “grisley”. They were notoriously bad spellers and perhaps meant grizzly in reference to lighter tips on its hairs or grisly* meaning fear-inspiring. Nonetheless, after careful study, naturalist George Ord formally classified it in 1815 – not for its hair, but for its character – as Ursus horribilis (“terrifying bear”). The griz is well-named as John and Lisa can testify. They were thankfully carrying two powerful cans of potent pepper spray known locally as bear spray and it worked!
At the Paris exhibition the first thing John and Lisa did was take a good hard look at the naturalized brown bear on display. It was a opportunity to look carefully at the creature which was rather a blur during the attack which lasted hardly 30 seconds. The naturalized bear was certainly still and they could peer at his eyes and claws which are as long as an adult human’s fingers. There were 7 other naturalized bears on display showing all 8 species. The exhibit had interesting scientific displays of bear leg bones that show how they can run fast and stand upright. One stand allowed you to compare the heartbeat of an active bear versus a hibernating bear – only 8 beats per minute! There was a video that showed you how a bear’s eyes see the world. And plenty of other video footage of bears eating, running, fishing, climbing and birthing. Another section showed evolution and fossils.
An additional part of the exhibit focused on man’s relationship with bears. It examined creation myths, the naming of the constellation Ursa Major and storytelling as well as training bears for performance, art and teddies. Finally Espèces d’Ours inquires into the future of these species as populations are dwindling.
The exhibit was very well done and the displays are presented both in French and very good English. The videos do not have sound and so are not distracting while you are viewing other items. The displays are interesting for both adults and children, some being interactive and playful. Over all John and Lisa very much enjoyed and recommend visiting this exhibit which is open until 19 June.
Espèces d’ours Grande Galerie de l’Évolution Jardin des Plantes, Paris 5th
In conjuction with the exhibition there is also:
- an outside (free) photography exhibition called OURS by Vincent Meunier 14 mai 2017 Sur les grilles du Jardin de l’École de Botanique – Jardin des Plantes.
- a sort of treasure hunt to find the 11 permanent bears in the Jardin des Plantes.
A mook (book/magazine combo) called OURS by Billebaude was written to go with the expo in addition the the official catalogue. In French, Billebaude, is published by Editions Glénat, twice yearly. Each issue treats a different subject regarding animals. “Billebaude est une revue d’exploration et de réflexion sur les usages et représentations de la nature. Chaque semestre, la revue propose autour d’un thème – le loup, la forêt, la ruralité, etc. -, des contributions de chercheurs, journalistes, acteurs de terrain, artistes. Sans militer, Billebaude cherche à révéler les paradoxes de la société contemporaine marquée à la fois par une sensibilité croissante à la nature et une méconnaissance pratique de plus en plus grande du fonctionnement des écosystèmes. Revue d’analyses, d’interviews, de récits, Billebaude est aussi galerie d’art.” The Spring 2017 issue will be about tracking animals. Billebaude is available by subscription and in bookstores. 19.90€/issue of 96 pages.
- Grisly means disgusting and bloody, absolutely repulsive and horrible. French = Macabre, épouvantable.
- Grizzly is a large North American species of bear also known as a silvertip bear. French = Grizzli
- Gristly means rubbery or full of cartilage. French = cartilagineux.
- Grizzled means silvery and is frequently used to describe a man’s hair. French = grisonant
- Do you like to learn the nuances of English (or French) words? If so try a Speak Easy Puzzle, this one even has a bear theme!