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Animal Database
California Grizzly Bear
Ursus arctos californicus, Santa Barbara, Natural History Museum
Specimen at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Information
Range California
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Ursidae
Genus Ursus
Species U. arctos
Conservation Status
EXSpecies
Extinct

The California golden bear or California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) is an extinct subspecies of the brown bear. The California golden bear disappeared from the state of California in 1922 when the last one was shot in Tulare County. In 1866, a grizzly weighing 2,200 pounds was killed in Valley Center, California, the largest grizzly killed in California.

Symbolism[]

Flag of California

Flag of California

The California golden bear is the official state animal, and it appears on the Flag of California. It is alluded to in the names of the sports teams of the University of California, Berkeley (the California Golden Bears), and of the University of California, Los Angeles (the UCLA Bruins), and in the mascot of the University of California, Riverside (Scottie the Bear, dressed in a Highland kilt). The California Maritime Academy operates a training ship named "Golden Bear".

History and extinction[]

Prior to Spanish settlement in the second half of the 1700s, it is estimated that 10,000 grizzly bears inhabited what is modern-day California. It is thought that the bears lived across almost the entirety of the state, save its most southeastern and northeastern corners. The bears ate a diverse diet from California’s varied climates, ranging from plant sources like grasses, seeds, and berries, to animal sources such as deer, fish, and carrion—including beached whale carcasses.

Europeans' first recorded encounters with California grizzly bears are found in diaries kept by several members of the 1769 Portola expedition, the first European land exploration of what is now the state of California. Several place names that include the Spanish word for bear (oso) trace their origins back to that first overland expedition (e.g. Los Osos). As the settled frontier of New Spain was extended northward, settlers began to populate California and establish large cattle herds as the main industry. The ranchers’ domesticated livestock were easy prey for the grizzly bears roaming freely across the state. By eating their livelihood and scaring them, the grizzlies became enemies of the rancheros. Vaqueros hunted the grizzlies, often roping and capturing them to be pitted against other animals in public battles.

These bear-baiting events flourished as popular spectacles in 19th century California. Bloody fights that pitted bears against bulls often inspired betting as to whether the bear or the bull would win. One persistently popular, but false phrase origin story related to these fights stems from famous 19th-century newspaperman Horace Greeley. While visiting California Greeley allegedly witnessed such a fight, and supposedly gave the modern stock market its "bear" and "bull" nicknames based on the fighting styles of the two animals: the bear swipes downward while the bullhooks upward. In truth, the phrase’s origins predate Greeley's 1859 journey to California by at least 100 years,[12] but the myth of the California connection persists.

Monarch the bear

Monarch, a preserved specimen, on display at the California Academy of Sciences

In 1866, a grizzly bear described as weighing as much as 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) was killed in what is present-day Valley Center, California. The incident was recalled in 1932 by Catherine E. Lovett Smith, and it was the biggest bear ever found in California. Lovett Smith witnessed the bear’s killing on her family's ranch when she was six years old. (Other sources confirm her account of the bear, but differ as to its exact size.) Her telling of that bear is part of the oral history of “Bear Valley,” the original name for Valley Center.

Less than 75 years after the discovery of gold in 1848, almost every grizzly bear in California had been tracked down and killed. One prospector in Southern California, William F. Holcomb (nicknamed "Grizzly Bill" Holcomb), was particularly well known for hunting grizzly bears in what is now San Bernardino County. The last hunted California grizzly bear was shot in Tulare County, California, in August 1922, although no body, skeleton or pelt was ever produced. Two years later in 1924, what was thought to be a grizzly was spotted in Sequoia National Park for the last time and thereafter, grizzlies were never seen again in California.

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