A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.
—John Amos Comenius
This extremely disparate cross is alleged in various German-language publications. Though the existence of bear-cow hybrids is attested by various independent reports, their actual occurrence has by no means been established by scientific means. Indeed many scientists would assume that such a hybrid is impossible. The only bear residing in Europe is the Brown Bear, Ursus arctos.
The first of these reports comes from Košice, the largest city in eastern Slovakia, which prior to World War I was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It appeared on page 7 (columns 2 and 3) of the May 16, 1877 issue of the Viennese newspaper Welt Blatt:
From Košice: On the 6th of this month, a veterinarian¹ residing at Košice, Herr Kaiser, was called to the nearby village of Buza where the pregnant cow of a farmer, named Glück, had been unable to calve despite all efforts to assist her. When even the vet couldn’t help, she had to be slaughtered. And what was inside! Instead of a calf, the assembled farm workers were amazed to find a fully formed bear cub weighing 60 Viennese pounds (i.e., 74 lbs or 33.5 kg). It had a long-haired, shaggy coat and resembled a calf only in the upper portion of its face. The nasal bones were absent and it was a cyclops with a single eye in the center of its forehead. At the urging of the veterinarian, this remarkable monstrosity was taken to Košice. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]
Another bear-cow hybrid shambled onto the pages of Welt Blatt the following year (page 9, column 1, of the May 18, 1878 issue):
From Hersbruck in Bavaria: Yesterday, in the little neighboring town of Velden, the cow of the bailiff there could not calve and, despite the help of a veterinarian, she could not be saved. And when they cut open the body, there came to light a thing that no one in these parts had ever seen before, which honestly had the following appearance: The head was like that of an unusually large pug dog. The neck was nonexistent. The body was covered with the long hair of a bear and, overall, was formed like that of a bear, with a bear’s short tail. Only the feet were those of a cow. The creature is completely developed and would, perhaps, have lived if the mother had not been slaughtered. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]
Hersbruck is about ten miles east of Nuremburg.
A third such report, but briefer, appears on page 5 (column 1) of the March 29, 1887 issue of the same newspaper, Welt Blatt. It reads as follow:
From Volders in the Tyrol it’s reported that in Riccabonahofe near Volders, on the 21st and 22nd of this month, a cow gave birth to five stillborn calves. Four were of ordinary appearance, but the fifth was a so-called bear-calf. The mother cow is, however, doing just fine. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]
Location of Volders|
Volders is a municipality in the district of Innsbruck-Land in the Austrian state of Tyrol located 12 km east of Innsbruck on the southern side of the Inn River.
Another, more recent notice published in a newspaper published in 1943, states that “bear-calves [i.e., Bärenkälber] are found in the abortions of cattle.”
If these reports were genuine, then one would have to assume that the male parent of this hybrid was a brown bear, Ursus arctos, which, as has already been mentioned, is the only ursid residing in Europe. However, such a disparate cross cannot be accepted as real without the careful scientific evaluation of a specimen, and in this cross specimens are glaringly absent.
It is true that a detailed newspaper report exists about bear-goat hybrids (quoted elsewhere on this website), which is a similar cross. But the actual occurrence of that cross, has not been established either. There is also a report about a bear-sheep hybrid, and even a rather detailed report about a bear-horse hybrid.
An additional report, from Canada rather than Europe, appears on page 2, column 1, of the April 25, 1904, issue of the St. John Daily Sun. This location excludes the potential participation of U. arctos in the reported cross and instead implicates the American black bear (Ursus americanus), the only bear that occurs in eastern Canada. Hybrids between Ursus americanus and U. arctos have been produced in captivity (see the bear hybrids page). Originally published in a Fredericton newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, the notice in question is very brief and reads as follows (source):
There has been born in St. Marys an animal which is causing considerable attention. Its mother is a cow and is half calf and half bear. Its head and neck are shaped similarly to a bear’s, and it has two tails, one similar to a calf’s on its side and the other similar to a bear’s attached at the regular place.
Saint Mary is a parish in Kent County, New Brunswick.
A brief notice reporting another such event appeared on page 8, column 1, of the May 8, 1891, issue of the Watertown Times, a newspaper published in Watertown, New York (source): “In the town of Worth, this county [i.e., Jefferson County, New York], is to be seen a monstrosity, half calf and half bear.”
In addition, on page 3, column 3, of the August 21, 1890, issue of the Crawford Avalanche, a newspaper published in Grayling, Michigan (source). A cow is reported to have given birth to a bear cub at Rust Township, which is in the northeastern part of Lower Michigan.
So now an important question arises: If a cow can bear such young, then could a bear cow such young as well?
The origin of chalicotheres? One correspondent wrote in to suggest that a bear-horse hybrid would have traits characteristic of the extinct ungulates known as chalicotheres. One such creature, Moropus, was endemic to North America during the Miocene from ~23.0—13.6 Mya (an artist’s reconstruction is shown below).
I tend to agree with this suggestion in a general way, at least to the extent that I think it should be investigated further, but one issue is that chalicotheres apparently lacked upper incisors, which is an artiodactyl trait, and not one of perissodactyls. Instead, the lower incisors pinch food such as grass and twigs against a dental pad on the upper mandible (see image right). So the present cross, bear × cow, might come a little closer to fitting the bill. However, it’s not easy to judge the likelihood of such a hypothesis, given that available descriptions of alleged bear-cows lack detail.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
1. The word used was actually Kurschmied, a now defunct profession that combined the duties of veterinarian and farrier.
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