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I have a native tribe in pre-Columbus America that has successfully domesticated small, omnivorous bears. They are similar in size to Sun Bears [120–150 cm (47–59 in) / 27–80 kg (60–176 lb)]. I want to use the bear as dog replacement but I don't think its plausible to use them as hounds or to make them herd.

Is there any useful thing that my domestic bear could do well for the tribe beside being a pet? I'm not looking for bear cavalry, just anything useful where a bear fits better than dogs & cats.

The bear is domesticated not tamed,tribe successfully breed it for generations as pets.

Please no suggestions for the bear as food source.

Edit

Just watched documentary about Sun Bears , the good thing is that even Tigers who share habitat with Sun Bears won't predate them, the bad news is that humans in Indonesia keep them in cages and cut their paws one by one as delicacy :(

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    $\begingroup$ Could a snake be useful? What about a kangaroo? Or a whale? Any animal could be useful to us if we could get it to do what we want it to. The problem being that we typically can't. I submit the following WB SE question for your consideration. The short answer is that bear would not lend themselves to domestication. There are many reasons, but consider, for example, that they are not pack animals, and don't play nice with one another. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Oct 21, 2016 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ fun question +1 Might be useful to reframe it tho--dogs serve so many darn functions that you might want to drill down on exactly what you'd want them to do. Hounds are mainly Bay Dogs, and bears wouldn't serve that way. covered in my answer, with linkage. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2016 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ I added that they might be good at protecting specific people in my answer. Bad guard dogs for a camp, but might be good protection for a person. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2016 at 18:00

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Brown bears can be found in many habitats, from the fringes of deserts to high mountain forests and ice fields. In Europe, the brown bear is mostly found in mountain woodlands, in Siberia it occurs primarily in forests while in North America they prefer tundra, alpine meadows and coastlines. The species' main requirements are areas with dense cover in which they can shelter by day. Link to source

Most bears, like the browns above don't thrive in rainforest-type environs, but there are some like the Speckled Bear that do. Note that smaller bears tend to use trees more.

Most bears are fairly solitary, however, they will be seen near each other when food is more abundant. I believe that if they are domesticated and fed regularly, you can train them out of the more solitary behavior. I would say a hunter could make use of two of them very efficiently.

Ideas for use

  • If they are trainable, and there is agriculture, you could get them to focus on eating bugs to help with crops. They should only be trained to eat fruit that they are given. As kingledion suggested in his answer, they can also be encouraged to kill/ drive out other animals. The fact that they are smaller might mean that they are more agile and can be used this way.
  • Use them for hunting game, as you would a catch dog. Again they should only be trained to take a certain amount or just food from the trainer.
  • As trackers. There is actually some evidence out there that bears can and do track food sources and people...in some cases, very, very patiently.
  • Although they are not protective of places, they are protective of cubs. If that can be transferred to a specific person, they might make good body guards, if they are awake.

Bad ideas

  • Using bears to guard a geographical area. Most bears are not naturally territorial, so unlike a dog, they make very poor guards. This is despite good hearing, decent vision, and sense of smell. They just don't alert to much.
  • Making them into a herd. Bears can be social, but they don't group up naturally and I believe that conflicts will arise if you force this. Having them stay with their trainers and know each other seems feasible, but keeping a standard herd of them seems like a bad idea, given what there is about their natural behavior.
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  • $\begingroup$ Smaller bears are not necessarily more agile. Unlike most people think, large bears are quite agile and fast. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2016 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ Large bears are pretty agile, but smaller bears are more agile and better suited to rows of crops. Large bears, when chasing something through rows of crops would be more likely to destroy some than would smaller bears, just by dint of their size. They are less likely to also be able to kill smaller animals, because, as agile as a bear is, they aren't a match for a rabbit in most cases (unless the rabbit is in a confined space). Taking the size down, just a bit, would help with that. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2016 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ You are definitely right about both cases. Just wanted to point out that the large bears are also quite agile animals. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2016 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer, thank you for the Grizzly link $\endgroup$
    – Care_Bear
    Oct 22, 2016 at 17:51
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Dogs were probably hunting partners at first, and eventually guarded things and provided companionship. A bear could do all these things well.

Cats were used for rodent control. A bear could not do that well.

Other domesticated animals were primarily for food. A bear may seem non-optimal for that, but it depends on the environment.

Bear Herding

If your civilization is in a rainforest, a sun bear is actually one of the best mammal options to herd for a nomadic lifestyle. They eat insects, palm shoots, and fallen fruit. Sure you could never get vast herds of them, but smallish herds of edible bears (or milking bears?) would be practical given some human engineering of the landscape. Specifically, if humans cut down non-fruit bearing trees, there would be a.) a lot more sunlight on fruit bearing trees, and therefore more fruit, b.) a lot more fallen logs full of insects and c.) plenty of firewood. Also, it would be worthwhile to kill all the monkeys you could find to leave more fruit for the bears. You could then move your herd of 50 bears around feeding them on fruit and bugs.

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  • $\begingroup$ This. Pigs are one of the most useful domesticated animals in our repertoire. The diet of bears, especially smaller ones, is pretty similar to pigs. Feed them unpalatable scraps of human food, let them forage, and then eat them when they get bigger. Sorted. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2022 at 10:42
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Finding Food

Bears have excellent smell and hearing.

Use them in a hunter-gatherer society to find fruit plants, honey, catch fish in the river, find and hunt small game etc.

A single bear accompanying a small group of human gatherers would be invaluable.

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Assuming you actually managed to get to tame the bear. I am also assuming small brown bear as sun bear is not very useful for anything.

Similar to dogs bears are excellent fighters. Even though your bear is quite small, it still can do damage. Additionally, bears are excellent hunters and scavengers. They can scurry food for their master. They run quite fast. So at the end of the day, they are dogs 2.0

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  • $\begingroup$ Is the problem that bear is small, which makes it useless? $\endgroup$
    – Care_Bear
    Oct 21, 2016 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Not exactly sure, but sun bear is also called honey bear, which prefers finding food instead of hunting. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2016 at 10:55
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Bears are nice and fury and soft. They can be slept with for warmth and comfort, not unlike a teddy bear. Australian Aboriginals would sleep with dogs for warmth.

They might also be territorial like a "den mother" and attack intruders to protect the tribe.

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If you assume black bears made it into South America (or else relocate your society to the southern United States) then they might be the best choice for bear domestication . They're not particularly aggressive compared to other species but are large enough to do useful work - in particular as pack animals i.e. as replacements for donkeys and mules. Since horses were absent in the Amercias prior to the arrival of Europeans in effect they could be low altitude substitutes for llamas and perform similar roles. (With enough selective breeding who knows you might even be able to harvest bear fur for weaving.)

They're also very intelligent and trainable animals so if raised in groups and trained properly you might be able to yoke them together in teams for plowing, stump pulling and other haulage duties.

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