Like pretty much everyone who’s been watching His Dark Materials on Sunday evenings over the last few weeks, I feel that my life would be enhanced significantly through the presence of an armoured bear. But the more I think about it, the more I have to admit that life with an armoured bear might not be as easy as one would like.
Sadly, the BBC appears to have decided to focus solely on the positive aspects of having an armoured bear. We see bears offering sage advice, bears fighting off intruders, bears racing across the landscape to help people in trouble, etc. This is all good stuff. But as any pet owner will tell you, there’s always more to it than that.
For a start, your bear is going to need to eat. Now, I don’t know about panserbjørne, but your average male Ursus maritimus weighs upwards of half a ton and eats about one 55kg ringed seal a week.
That’s equivalent (in weight, at least) to 137.5 tins of Pedigree dog food. A week. Except that Pedigree doesn’t come in seal flavour, so we’re going to have a problem right from the start.
Your armoured bear is also going to need somewhere to sleep. In response to the question of where exactly your bear is going to sleep, it’s an apex predator with 42 enormous teeth, so I’d say let it sleep wherever it wants.
But do keep in mind that your bear is going to be up to three metres long, so if you’re planning on snuggling up with it on the couch, you may wish to think again. You’ll note that, in His Dark Materials, the bear tends to stay outside and is never allowed onto the furniture. There are good reasons for this. (As anyone who has ever encouraged an armoured bear up onto their sofa will tell you, this is a mistake you only make once.)
Armoured bears also need exercise. Your average Ursus maritimus spends most of its time wandering the ice floes, hunting for seals. But it can also swim up to 200 miles in one go. And it can swim under water for up to three minutes. So if you want to avoid your armoured bear going stir crazy (and you do not want your armoured bear to go stir crazy), you’re going to have to offer it more than a quick spin around the block before and after work.
While armoured bears have excellent digestive systems and, if they’re anything like polar bears, can assimilate 84% of the protein and 97% of the fat that they eat, some of what goes in the front is going to come out the back. And as responsible armoured bear owners (to the extent that one can really ‘own’ an armoured bear), we’re going to need to scoop that poop. Given that a piece of polar bear poop is (and I really wish I hadn’t googled this) about the size of your forearm, this is going to require something more than a little black plastic bag and a pinched nose.
While you’re pondering the logistics of all this, you should probably also register your armoured bear with a vet. Armoured bears aren’t known for being overly sickly, but it pays to plan ahead. And, depending on where you live, your armoured bear may need its shots. But choose your vet wisely, as not all will appreciate you coming in with a half-ton carnivore that’s used to eating whatever small furry strays across its path. My local vet, for example, claims to have an interest in ‘exotic species’. But closer investigation reveals that he’s talking about iguanas and stuff, not armoured bears. You have been warned.
If you’re registering with a vet, you should also get your armoured bear some insurance. In fact, I’d suggest that third party liability insurance, as a minimum, is probably essential. I’ve checked with Petplan and they don’t cover armoured bears, so you may well need to go with a specialist insurer. And this isn’t going to be cheap. But I’m pretty sure that it’ll be a darn sight cheaper than having to pay out of your own pocket when your armoured bear has an off day and goes on the rampage through your local Waitrose. (It’s a well-known fact that armoured bears will only shop at Waitrose. Though no-one’s sure why.)
If you’re planning to go on holiday with your armoured bear, you may wish to check ahead of time with your accommodation provider that they don’t have a ‘no armoured bears’ policy. It’s my experience that surprisingly few hotels, etc., actually have a ‘no armoured bears’ policy in place. But they can sometimes get a bit funny about it when you and your armoured bear turn up in reception. The same goes for other supposedly ‘pet friendly’ public transport providers, cafes, restaurants and tourist attractions.
While the presence of an armoured bear would represent an undoubted improvement to anyone’s life, the logistics of caring for one’s armoured bear should not be underestimated. And given that armoured bears can live up to thirty years in the wild, welcoming an armoured bear into one’s home is a significant commitment. And one that should not be entered into lightly.
Thank you to Wikipedia for having such informative pages on both His Dark Materials and polar bears. My favourite polar bear fact that I’ve learned from writing this is that a US Geological Survey study on how far polar bears swim (which is where I got the 200 miles statistic) could only report data on female polar bears, because the male polar bears had necks that were too large for the GPS collars.