Paddington and other Peruvian bears
There are many popular children’s stories about bears, but one of the most popular is about a very particular Peruvian bear: Paddington. Although this bear is now a movie star and the books about him are best sellers, the actual Peruvian bears are not well known, which makes conserving them more difficult.
Without knowing more about these bears, it’s hard to make plans to support their long-term coexistence with people.
What’s also not well known is that the creator of Paddington, Michael Bond, originally intended his bear to come not from Peru, but from Africa. When Mr. Bond’s editor pointed out that there were no bears in Africa, Paddington’s home was changed to Peru, which probably seemed mysterious and exotic to the book’s readers. Coincidentally, there is symbolism in this bit of trivia.
Although Paddington’s editor was correct to point out that were no bears in Africa when the first Paddington book was written, there once were African bears. The Atlas bear, a subspecies of brown bear, persisted in North Africa until just a few hundred years ago. Scientists think this bear, the ‘original’ Paddington bear, was wiped out by humans, who hunted it. The ‘replacement’ Paddington bear, the Andean bear, is also hunted by humans, and it also faces several other threats related to human use of resources.
Will the interest in Andean bears generated by the Paddington stories and movies lead to greater support for their conservation? I hope so!