The Extinct Pride of California

California State FlagA fairly common thing for college students to do is to write parody lyrics to the fight song of a rival. Just such a thing was done by some creative student or students at Stanford University with the Berkeley fight song. It goes:

That poor old Golden Bear
It’s losing all its hair
It’s teeth are out
It’s got the gout
It don’t know what it’s all about!

If only it were doing that well!

The bear in question is the California Grizzly (Brown) Bear , which is also known as the California Golden Bear. It is the mascot of the University of California, Berkeley. But it is also the symbol for the whole state. It is on our state flag, and was on the California flag even before it became a state in 1850. But within 75 years of statehood, the subspecies had been hunted to extinction. A lot of that was understandable: the bear was very dangerous to humans and their farming operations. It was also a food supply. But much of it wasn’t understandable, as in the once popular sport of grizzly bear versus bull fights. (Sadly, I’m sure there are many Californians who would enjoy watching such events today.)

The California Black Bear, on the other hand is doing just fine. But it is a much more adaptable animal. It is also a small bear. The largest California grizzly bears weigh well over a ton—arguably the largest of the brown bear species. Typically the California Black Bear weights one-tenth that. And the largest black bear of any subspecies ever was barely one-third the size of the largest California Grizzlies.

I’m not suggesting that the size of an animal is that big a deal. I’m rather fond of those cocky little smooth-coated otters myself. But clearly, we Californians put the California Grizzly Bear on our flag because it was big and strong. And then we proceeded to hunt it to extinction. I think we should add one of those red circles with a line through it to our flag.

New California State Flag

Truth in advertising.

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