A bear of a lesson comes to SCICON

Tulare County Historical Museum donates its award-winning taxidermied bear display to SCICON to use as a teaching tool

TULARE – SCICON recently acquired a new exhibit from the Tulare County Historical Museum displaying a taxidermied grizzly bear and a black bear.

The Tulare County Historical Museum donated its prize-winning bear exhibit to SCICON, the outdoor school of science and conservation operated by the Tulare Office of Education (TCOE) that fifth and sixth graders across the county visit every year. The bear exhibit moved into SCICON’s natural history museum on July 26 and according to TCOE Superintendent Tim Hire, TCOE has no intentions of ever removing it from its new home.

“It was offered to us by the Tulare Museum because it’s an awfully large exhibit for the space they had,” Hire said. “It was their idea that it would be great for kids to see as they come to SCICON.”

The bear exhibit is 13 feet long, 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall, taking up most of the front room of the museum. It features a life-like standoff between a black bear and a grizzly bear over a salmon, depicting the natural rivalry for resources between the two species. With both species in the exhibit, students visiting SCICON will have the opportunity to learn how to identify the differences between a black bear and a grizzly bear.

“It’s a beautiful taxidermy. It’s a beautiful display. It is going to be a fabulous teaching tool for here,” SCICON director Dianne Shew said. “You can’t generate excitement like that in a book.”

Both black bears and grizzly bears used to roam throughout California, but the last grizzly bear spotted in the state was killed in Tulare County in the 1920s. Most students will never have the opportunity to see a grizzly bear in the wild, short of traveling to Yellowstone or Katmai National Parks, so the exhibit is a chance for them to see the size and characteristics of a grizzly bear.

Students can learn how to identify a black bear from the exhibit, which is important because black bears still live in California, even near Tulare County. Sometimes they are even spotted at SCICON. It’s important for students to see the bears up close in order to see some key differences between the bears that are not only the color of their fur. 

A common misconception is that all grizzly bears are brown and all black bears are black. However, both black and grizzly bears come in a variety of colors ranging from blond to black. The best characteristics to identify a bear are the shoulders, the face and the claws. Grizzly bears have a pronounced shoulder hump while black bears do not. Grizzly bears have a distinct dish-shaped face that is concave, as opposed to the flatter face of a black bear. Finally, grizzly claws are much longer than a black bear’s.

Students will be able to see all of these characteristics at the exhibit at SCICON due to the award-winning taxidermy in the detailed exhibit. When encountering a bear in the wild – which students may do while camping or hiking either in California or traveling to another state – identification is important because grizzly bears and black bears have different behavioral patterns, and so the best way to respond to an attack is different. If attacked by a grizzly bear, it is best to play dead, but if attacked by a black bear, it is best to run or fight.

Overall, the best way to avoid an encounter with a bear is to keep a good distance and avoid surprising bears. Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming so some hikers play music out of a speaker while hiking in bear country. It is also important to carry food in a bear-safe container such as a bag or canister. The National Parks Service has detailed articles on how to store food properly in bear country.

Students will begin taking field trips up to SCICON to see the bear exhibit as early as the third week of August after school starts.

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