Every one of the states which together make up the United States of America has its own emblems and symbols, many of which consist of animals and plants. The state bear of California is the grizzly, a hugely impressive animal which does not actually dwell in the state now at all, having become extinct there during the early 20the century. Yet the animal was once common in California, and it occupies a special place in the history of the state.
That did not used to be the case in the 19th century and before though, in the days before the California gold rush brought so many people flocking into this part of North America. The grizzly used to be very common among the valleys and low mountains of this part of the frontier, but it was an intimidating barrier to many of the new settlers. It preyed on livestock, and disrupted many of the things which the new arrivals were looking to put in place.
This brought the mighty California grizzly bear into conflict with humanity. The bears had lived in the valleys and lower mountains of California, and there is some informed speculation that there were actually more grizzlies here than in any other part of North America. The last grizzly was killed in California in 1922, when the last recorded specimen was killed by shooting in Tulare County.
The size of the grizzlies which could be found in California in the 19th century era of settlement was huge too, and some massive specimens have been recorded from this period of time. Valley Center was the place where the largest ever recorded was shot and killed, in 1866. This giant of the bears was weighed at the time, with a weight of 2,200 pounds being recorded.
The grizzlies which lived in California belonged to their own sub-species, which became known as the Californian Golden Bear, or Ursus arctos californicus in scientific terms. Settlers shot and killed the animal wherever they found it, as it posed a danger to agriculture and the lives of settlers. While many may have loved the animal for its wild qualities, there were many more who thought it a dangerous nuisance.
Nevertheless, despite the extirpation of the grizzlies, there was clearly some affection for the animal and its character among at least some of the population of California. The grizzly made its first appearance on a Californian flag in 1846, when some Californian officials clashed in a very small confrontation with some Spaniards. This conflict actually came to be known as the ‘Bear Flag Revolt’.
But it took until just eleven years before the last grizzly in California was shot for it to be officially recognised as one of this western state’s official emblems. Although the grizzly had featured on the flag when California applied for statehood in 1850, it was not officially adopted until 1911. In 1922, the last grizzly in California was killed, in a touch of sad irony.
It is a sad irony that the state bear of California does not actually dwell in the state any more. Any wildlife enthusiasts who travel to the wilder areas of California seeking bears will be lucky to see black bears rather than the mighty grizzly, whose days in this part of North America seem to be over. Black bears are a smaller animal than the grizzly, and also much more shy and less likely to seek contact with humans.
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