The numbers are in, and the black bear lost.

Across New York State, where I live, hunters took 1,346 black bears during 2021.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos declared, “Although they aren’t always successful, thousands of dedicated hunters venturing afield each year help keep populations [of black bears] at desired levels, maintaining healthy bear populations in the state.” Both bows and muzzleloaders came into play. The heaviest beast weighed more than 600 pounds.

The black bear has always been held sacred by the Cherokee, and a project in North Carolina displayed sculptures decorated with the symbolism of different clans: Bird, Blue, Deer, Wolf, and so on.

I’ve never been big on buffalo burgers or gravitated to goat stew, feeling something of a kinship with both animals. And I’ve never had horse, or at least knowingly. But I somehow feel even worse about the idea of shooting a bear, although the purpose of the hunt might be for meat as well as trophy. And, hunting advocates tell me, the bears are invading the suburbs! They are dangerous! They must be stopped!

Seventy-five percent of Americans think hunting wild game is a good thing. Between 40,000 to 50,000 bears are legally hunted in the U.S. each year; an unknown number are also illegally poached.

Not every hunter is what’s known as “slob hunter,” someone who hunts legally, but behaves unethically. A slob hunter will take bad shots, leave trash in the woods, damage habitat, vandalize signs, or show disrespect toward natural resources, landowners, other hunters and people in general. 

The vast majority of hunters in America (95%) eat the game animals they kill. So it’s all okay, isn’t it?

Let’s consider some other animals that are routinely killed for their meat.

Dog eating is still common in China, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and the region of Nagaland in India. An estimated 30 million dogs across Asia, including stolen family pets, are killed for human consumption every year.

In Taiwan, many people think that eating black dogs in will help you stay warm. Taiwan is the first Asian country to crack down dogs as food. The country’s Animal Protection Act fines anyone caught selling, eating or buying the animals for consumption, with a fine of up to £6,500. Those found guilty of animal cruelty could also receive a fine of £52,000 and two years in prison.

Each year in June, the city of Yulin in southern China hosts a dog meat festival, where live dogs and cats are sold specifically for eating and an estimated 10,000 are slaughtered for their meat. You can look up pictures if you like; I can’t bear to run them here.

South Koreans eat more than one million dogs per year. They consume much of it during boknal, the hottest days of the year, in July and August. Some believe it revives energy or virility sapped by the heat. They consider dog meat in bosintang stew or the drink gaesoju as “a soup form of Gatorade,” according to American food writer Joe McPherson in a 2015 UPI interview.

The most common dog breed raised for food is called nureongi — Korean for “yellow dog.” They have short, yellow fur, and are seldom adopted as pets. In other words, they are considered generic, and so expendable.

Humane Society International has been liberating canines from the farms that raise them and adopting them out to U.S. families.

Cats are also considered medicinal in Asia. In Korea, cat meat was historically brewed into a tonic as a folk remedy for neuralgia and arthritis. Modern consumption has mainly been in the form of cat soup, consumed most often by middle-aged working class women for perceived health benefits. It takes ten cats to produce a small bottle of goyangi, an alcoholic elixir.

With the increase of cats as pets in China, opposition towards the traditional use of cats for food has grown. In June 2006, approximately 40 activists stormed the Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant, forcing it to shut down.

What about bears? Are they good eating?

In Europe of the late medieval period, the consumption of bear meat was an aristocratic privilege. In Tyrol and Piedmont, villages had to fetch up a set number of bear paws to the local lord every year.

Elsewhere in the world, Kodiak Natives hunted bears for food, clothing and tools, and left bear heads in the field as a sign of respect to the ursuline spirit. 

Closer to home – in North America. Native tribes, frontiersmen and settlers ate bear meat for hundreds of years. 

The black bear has become one of the most widespread big game animals in North America, and hunting them is legal in 27 states, last I counted.

A blip occurred in the American support for bear hunting, which slackened when Teddy Roosevelt went on a hunt and refused to shoot a bear tied to a willow tree. A toy company famously marketed a stuffed bear to commemorate the incident. You know the rest.

Hunters have come to recognize Arizona as one of the nation’s greatest spots for black bear hunting. A staple of all Arizona bear diets is the prickly pear cactus, and bears can predictably stay close to a patch. Kind of like a salt lick with thorns.

New Jersey’s hunting guide offers an online bear cookbook that features “Grilled Bear Loin with Brown Sugar Baste” and “BBQ Bear Roast.” 

“Good bear meat can go toe-to-toe with any other wild game meat when prepared properly,” proffers hunter Connor Gabbott on a web site. “The best bear meat I have ever eaten was from an inland, spring-time sow that was estimated to be over twenty years old. Bear meat is slightly darker in color than beef and the grain of the meat is coarser and a touch looser. All the bear meat I have tried has been very mild and somewhat sweet. There is a distinct (not off-putting) smell to the meat, the same way raw lamb meat has a unique smell. To ensure the best table fare, it is highly recommended to remove all the fat from the meat prior to freezing. If left on, some potentially off-putting flavors from the fat can migrate into the meat while frozen.”

I feel sure that many people would get their hackles up were one to suggest we stop killing and consuming bears. Not having ever experienced the thrill of the hunt, I know I wouldn’t feel deprived of the hobby were it to be curtailed.

Sometimes considering one example helps us to focus on another.

The meat of the hyena is now a delicacy across Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Somalia, where people have developed a keen appetite for the wild animal’s meat – as long as they can afford it, as it comes at a cost. Pakistanis and Iranians also cook up hyena meat, which has been deemed halal. Don’t know about you, but the hyena is one of my favorite animals, with its keening vocals, sharp aroma and gender-fluid sex characteristics. I hate to think of them being et.

I feel the same way about the bear.

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