Urban Legends

Children Playing with Bears

The Legend

Parents were visiting Yellowstone with their eight-year-old son when they saw an enormous mother bear with her baby. The son thought the bears were adorable and thought it might be fun to pick up the little baby bear and play "keep away" with it and the mama bear. Unfortunately, the mama bear was a bad parent with no sense of fun. She got very upset and ate the little boy. Fortunately, the boy's parents go the whole thing on film and used it as evidence to sue the bear for damages.


A little boy and his parents were visiting a national park. While they were camping, a bear came into their camp. It was huge, but the family thought it was cute. The boy suggested that they nickname it "Foamy" because of all the foam around its lips, and the father got out his video camera to immortalize the "wacky" look in its eyes.

Then they thought it might be neat to get a movie of the bear licking the little boy's face, so they hauled out the raw hamburger and rubbed it on the boy's cheeks. Then the father threw a couple of rocks at the bear to get its attention and the boy walked over to it to get licked.

Amazingly, the nine-foot-tall grizzly was able to gulp down the six-year-old in one big bite. One year later, the parents won first place on America's Funniest Home Videos.

Behind the Legend

There is no shortage of people who do not treat animals with the respect they deserve. How many times has a fun-loving person strapped a firecracker to a frog, pulled on a tiger's tale, tipped over a raging bull, put a stunned deer in the back seat of their car, or thrown dynamite into a lake to kill fish without restraining their champion retriever only to have the innocent situation end in tragedy? A lot of times, that's how many.

In the above stories, both completely true and verified by an independent government ursine accounting office audit, kids ended up being eaten because of their family's lack of knowledge about bears. Versions of these stories exist in which the eaten child escapes by building a fire in the bear's stomach, or is found alive three days later when the bear is killed and split open, but these are hobbled by dubious veracity.

For those of you who might be contemplating having your child play with a bear on your next trip to the wilderness, note that the U.S. Parks Service recommends against this practice. In fact, forest rangers unanimously recommend that children be suspended by a rope from a tree in your campsite each night, high enough off the ground that a bear can't reach up and get them, and far enough below a branch that a bear can't climb the tree and get to them that way.

Coating a child in honey in the presence of a bear is also considered bad form. The putting of honey on a child should be reserved for attempts to gather a beard of bees, and then only away from other wild animals.

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