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The story of the Syrian brown bear, one of the oldest and most celebrated animals ever, which rose to prominence thanks to an unlikely “soldier bear”
The Syrian brown bear
The Syrian brown bear is the smallest subspecies of brown bear, with a maximum weight reaching 150 kg in males and 90 kg in females; it is omnivorous and has a predominantly light coat. It has always populated the territories of the Middle East, with a historical range extending from Palestine to the Caucasus and from eastern Turkey to Pakistan, so much so that it is identified as the bear mentioned in the Bible. It has no natural predator, but competes with the wolf and Arabian leopard.
Unfortunately due to the intense and increasingly vast human activity in its habitat, this subspecies is considered vulnerable to extinction.
Wojtek, the bear who became a corporal
During the Second World War the Syrian brown bear enjoyed particular notoriety thanks to Wojtek, the “little bear” who even managed to win the title of corporal. His story begins in 1942 in Hamadan, Iran, where a young local, after discovering the death of his mother, decides to donate the puppy to a group of Polish soldiers based there, who will soon adopt it, renaming it “Wojtek”; the little one will grow more and more inside the body, becoming almost indistinguishable from the rest of the soldiers, with whom he begins to drink beer (his favorite drink) and smoke cigarettes, thus becoming the mascot of the group, following him everywhere.
The problem will arise when the Polish military will have to use British vehicles, which at the time were absolutely against the transport of animals that were not essential for war; so it was that Wojtek was officially enlisted in the Polish army. He was particularly distinguished with the Allies for his contribution during the Battle of Montecassino, in Italy, in which he proved monstrously good at bringing ammunition to soldiers, so much so that he earned a promotion to corporal, a more unique than rare case for a bear. At the end of the conflict Wojtek will be sent to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he will only die in 1963 at the age of 22. Even today he is considered among the best known and most appreciated bears in the world, so much so that he was the protagonist of several TV shows and numerous statues have been created in his name.
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