She doesn’t know it. This sweet, cuddly bear has no idea she is a celebrity. Especially since visitors to Berlin Zoo no longer get to see her. Mauschen is now so old that she no longer has to serve as an exhibit. She spends her days, together with the black cat Muschi of course, in her very own enclosure.
During the day time, she and her little friend are let out into a nice little yard, at the back of the bears’ house. Only the bear keepers walk around in this yard. They give her apples and other goodies, and she gets to bask in the sun, warming her poor rheumatic limbs.
It is Mauschen’s extreme old age and her rheumatism that allowed me to get close to her. That, and my death defying courage, of course. Asiatic collar bears will usually reach their twenties, in the wild. In captivity, you can add maybe ten years to that number. But to get close to forty – well, no one has seen it, before. There is no collar bear alive or in history that ever lived to Mauschen’s stunning old age.
Is it the friendship with little Mausi, the cat, that keeps her – well, not young, but going? Going slowly…. Who knows?
I’ve petted a wolf and a coyote, and found them genial and relaxed. However, we were separated by a fence. I stuck my arm through, and caressed their hairy necks and snouts. They were as pleased as little puppies, and ran alongside me as I walked past their enclosure. I’m afraid I would probably have walked in and sat down with them, if I had had the chance.
However, I did not have the chance. That was a good thing. Keepers at the wolves shelter in South Africa told me that if I stepped in alone, they (the wolf and the coyote, I mean – not the keepers) would rip me to pieces before I could even extend my hand in greeting. Yet more rapidly so if I ever turned my back to them, even for a moment. Now, there are human social circles where such behaviour is common, too, but usually blood does not flow.
It is true – animals can appear to be very friendly, and even mean it; but they may still be inclined to attack when circumstances so demand. And we don’t always realize when circumstances do. There were some Japanese students who thought the lions in a safari park didn’t look very menacing. Especially since they (again: the lions – not the Japanese students) were firmly asleep. No harm in approaching them quite closely, the students thought.
As it turns out, lions can wake up and spring into action within milliseconds. They’re usually calm, sensible creatures, and they won’t attack you when there’s no need. However, when you get very close, there’s need. So, in summary, one should never be fooled by the cute looks of a potentially dangerous animal. Bloodshed may follow.
These things I know. Only, I’m a little hard headed and perhaps impulsive, at times. Not as impulsive as those Japanese students, mind you. I know that the friendly winks and bedroom eyes of a house cat may be the prelude to a sudden attack which sends you to the doctor for antibiotics and a tetanus shot. I’ve been there a few times. When it’s a grown lion that puts its canines into you, instead of the tabby next door, antibiotics may not do the job. Those Japanese students certainly didn’t need them. That is all I’ll say, so as not to upset our more sensitive readers. There wasn’t the slightest need for antibiotics.
But, well, what about a bear?, you ask. Let me tell you straight out: I’ve petted one, impulsively. And not with a half hearted caress on the forehead either, the way I do with horses that are big and look at me with mistrust in their eyes. Well, actually, even with small ponies that don’t look at me at all. No – I fondled and stroked and petted that bear like it was a baby labrador. And there was no fence in between. How come? I’ll tell you in my next post. It’s about one of the most famous interspecies friendships in the world; one between – no, not me and a bear, but a cat and a bear. You may have read about it already, for instance here.
(The English is…rather remarkable, on that page. You’ll see. In fact it is so awkward that I had to let you read it. Un-selfconscious writing is of course not exactly rare, on the net, but here it is taken to new extremes. You couldn’t imitate it if you tried.)