17 totally true facts about black bears that'll bring the warm and fuzzies.

1. This is a Louisiana black bear.

Image from John Connell/Flickr.


Don't recognize it? If you ever had a stuffed animal toy, maybe you should.

2. The Louisiana black bear allegedly inspired an American shopkeeper to make the original teddy bear.

The story goes that way back in 1902 President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in Mississippi. Despite Roosevelt being a famously avid hunter, when his hosts captured and tied up a black bear (intending to give it to him as an easy trophy), Roosevelt refused to shoot the animal, saying it was unsportsmanlike.

The press eventually got hold of this story, and this excellent cartoon was born:

This political cartoon in The Washington Post depicted Roosevelt's historic refusal. Image from Clifford Berryman/Wikimedia Commons.

Well, the story goes on to say that the cartoon was seen by a shop owner named Morris Michtom. Now, at this time there were other stuffed bear toys around, but it was apparently Michtom who first called them "Teddy's bears," which proved immensely popular and eventually turned into teddy bears.

3. While many subspecies of of black bears are thriving, the Louisiana black bear in particular have been struggling.

Image from Skeeze/Pixabay.

There are 16 different subspecies of black bears, and most have been doing well, but the ones in Louisiana haven't been doing so hot.

Part of this is because while Roosevelt didn't shoot that captured bear, other Louisiana bear hunts continued on. And it wasn't just that: As people chopped down the forests, the black bears were losing their homes. This one-two punch dropped the population of Louisiana black bears to under a hundred.

4. But thanks to a lot of people working hard to restore its home, the iconic Louisiana black bear finally has a brighter future ahead.

Image from U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr.

In the 1992, the government, recognizing the bear's plight, added the Louisiana black bear to its list of endangered species, granting it special federal protections.

Now, more than two decades later, it's been declared that the Louisiana black bear population has recovered. So much that they're going to be removed from the list of federally protected species. A lot of that is thanks to landowners helping to restore the forests the black bears depend on as homes.

5. That's great news for a true icon! Why so iconic, you ask? Well, they didn't just give us teddy bears; they were also the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.

The original pooh bear. Image from Manitoba Provincial Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

Despite the more well known image nowadays of Winnie-the-Pooh as a tan bear in a red shirt, it's a black bear who gave him his name.

The original A.A. Milne character was based on his son's stuffed bear (originally called Edward Bear), who was later renamed "Winnie" after meeting a real-life and somewhat famous Canadian black bear named Winnie at the London Zoo during World War I. (The "Pooh" comes from an encounter with a swan).

6. Black bears even stayed at the White House.

President Calvin Coolidge also had a pygmy hippo and a wallaby. Can we please get Obama a wallaby? National Photo Company/Wikimedia Commons.

President Calvin Coolidge kept a pet black bear in the White House. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt also had pet bears, but we don't know the species, unfortunately.

7. Which is kind of amazing, considering they can weigh half a ton.

Can you imagine this guy sitting in the Oval Office? Image from Casey Brown/Flickr.

That was the weight of the biggest black bear even seen, although the typical specimen is more like 400-500 pounds.

8. Their size doesn't stop black bears from being super athletes.

Image from Joshua Kenney/Flickr.

They're also quite good at swimming and can run 30 miles per hour.

9. Believe it or not, black bears aren't just black.

Image from Jon Rawlinson/Wikimedia Commons.

Black bears aren't just great at sports; they're fashion models too! They can be blueish, brown, cinnamon-colored, or even white. The white ones aren't albinos, by the way. That's just what their fur looks like.

10. Some of their relatives, like these sun bears, look a little goofy.

Two sun bears in Viet Nam. Image from Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images.

American black bears are most closely related to the Asian black bear and the Internet meme-inspiring sun bear.

11. But their ancestors were mega-awesome.

Image from Ghedoghedo/Wikimedia Commons.

All bears are descended from big, ancient predators known as "bear dogs." Guess who else is descended from bear dogs? (Hint: It's dogs.)

12. Black bears generally aren't picky eaters...

Mmm. Celery. Image from John Verive/Flickr.

Black bears are omnivores, which means they'll eat both plants and animals. And yes, they do eat honey, although they also love the bee grubs as well.

13. ...but with a sense of smell that is seven times better than dogs', black bears often find themselves in trouble when they go digging for food in trash cans and campsites.

This bear just found the ultimate lunch box. Image from California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Flickr.

Black bears also have pretty good hearing and vision. They can even see in color like humans.

14. Black bears, like many animals, would prefer to not run into humans.

Image from Skeeze/Pixabay.

Black bears are usually pretty shy and would rather run from people than fight them. But in places where bears have gotten too used to eating trash or getting handouts, they lose that fear of humans and can get aggressive.

15. That's partly why many campsites in bear country ask people to keep their sites clean and to not feed the bears.

Some parks use bear-proof trash cans like this one. Image from AllenS/Wikimedia Commons.

16. Keeping bears away from our campsites and homes is good for us and for them; that's why it's such welcome news to hear that conservation efforts have given Teddy's bears their homes back.

Image from Jim Martin/Wikimedia Commons.

While we might purposefully invite teddy bears into our homes, it's heartening to see that the Louisiana black bear has a home of its own again.

17. Thanks to these efforts, it looks like Teddy's bears will be with us for a long time.

Image from Skeeze/Pixabay.

Scientists say the population will be safe for at least the next 100 years, and removing them from the government's endangered species list won't remove their protections. It just means that the state will take over their care instead of the federal government.

So it looks like we won't be losing our real-life teddy bears anytime soon.

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Davina Agudelo was born in Miami, Florida, but she grew up in Medellín, Colombia.

"I am so grateful for my upbringing in Colombia, surrounded by mountains and mango trees, and for my Colombian family," Agudelo says. "Colombia is the place where I learned what's truly essential in life." It's also where she found her passion for the arts.

While she was growing up, Colombia was going through a violent drug war, and Agudelo turned to literature, theater, singing, and creative writing as a refuge. "Journaling became a sacred practice, where I could leave on the page my dreams & longings as well as my joy and sadness," she says. "During those years, poetry came to me naturally. My grandfather was a poet and though I never met him, maybe there is a little bit of his love for poetry within me."

In 1998, when she left her home and everyone she loved and moved to California, the arts continued to be her solace and comfort. She got her bachelor's degree in theater arts before getting certified in journalism at UCLA. It was there she realized the need to create a media platform that highlighted the positive contributions of LatinX in the US.

"I know the power that storytelling and writing our own stories have and how creative writing can aid us in our own transformation."

In 2012, she started Alegría Magazine and it was a great success. Later, she refurbished a van into a mobile bookstore to celebrate Latin American and LatinX indie authors and poets, while also encouraging children's reading and writing in low-income communities across Southern California.

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True

Davina Agudelo was born in Miami, Florida, but she grew up in Medellín, Colombia.

"I am so grateful for my upbringing in Colombia, surrounded by mountains and mango trees, and for my Colombian family," Agudelo says. "Colombia is the place where I learned what's truly essential in life." It's also where she found her passion for the arts.

While she was growing up, Colombia was going through a violent drug war, and Agudelo turned to literature, theater, singing, and creative writing as a refuge. "Journaling became a sacred practice, where I could leave on the page my dreams & longings as well as my joy and sadness," she says. "During those years, poetry came to me naturally. My grandfather was a poet and though I never met him, maybe there is a little bit of his love for poetry within me."

In 1998, when she left her home and everyone she loved and moved to California, the arts continued to be her solace and comfort. She got her bachelor's degree in theater arts before getting certified in journalism at UCLA. It was there she realized the need to create a media platform that highlighted the positive contributions of LatinX in the US.

"I know the power that storytelling and writing our own stories have and how creative writing can aid us in our own transformation."

In 2012, she started Alegría Magazine and it was a great success. Later, she refurbished a van into a mobile bookstore to celebrate Latin American and LatinX indie authors and poets, while also encouraging children's reading and writing in low-income communities across Southern California.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."