Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from? | Tricking visitors into believing Australia is home to predatory bears that drop from treetops on to unsuspecting people walking below has become a nat

Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?

Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?

Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?

Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?

Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?

Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?
Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?
  • By: ABC News (AU)
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Where did the urban legend of the dangerous Australian drop bear come from?

Posted January 18, 2020 09:09:57

Scottish reporter tricked into wearing 'drop bear' protective armourVideo: Scottish reporter tricked into wearing 'drop bear' protective armour (ABC News)

When Scottish journalist Debi Edward bravely held a dangerous native "drop bear" during the bushfire crisis on Kangaroo Island this week, it highlighted the true spirit of Australian larrikinism.

Key points:

  • National Geographic has suggested a species similar to the drop bear "prowled Australia during the last Ice Age"
  • It was called the Thylacoleo or "marsupial lion" and became extinct 50,000 years ago
  • James Cook University has likened drop bear myths to folktales of vampires

The ITV News Asia correspondent unwittingly created some much-needed joy during the devastation of the bushfires when the video of her close encounter with a drop bear went viral on social media.

Ms Edward said she fell for the hoax "hook, line and sinker".

But she's not the only one to fall prey to the prank.

Tricking foreigners into believing that Australia is home to a large predatory bear that drops from tree tops on to unsuspecting people walking below has become a national pastime.

It is a spoof designed to scare tourists — because, clearly, everything in Australia can kill you.

In the video, veterinarian and Army reservist Garnett Hall described the Australian drop bear as "a close cousin of the koala" but a lot more "vicious".

"It's sort of like a dingo and a normal domestic dog — they're bigger, they've got longer claws," he told Ms Edward, who looked worried.

"The third most common injury that we see in tourists in Australia is actually from drop bear attack."

Mr Garnett's fictional description of the drop bear was all part of the ploy to trick the trusting journalist.

But are Australian drop bears a complete work of fiction?

It is clear they do not exist in Australia at present, but an article by National Geographic has suggested a similar species "prowled Australia during the last Ice Age".

Drop bears used in academic research as 'tongue-in-cheek'

Flinders University palaeontologist Dr Sam Arman said Thylacoleo — more commonly known as the "marsupial lion" — lived in Australia during the Pleistocene era, which begun about 4 million years ago.

"Thylacoleo went extinct about 50,000 years ago," he said.

"It was actually more closely related to wombats in terms of living animals, but the crazy thing about it is that quite clearly it was a carnivore.

"My research on it … was looking at some scratch marks in a cave in south-west Western Australia, which we attributed to Thylacoleo and it shows that it has this really good climbing ability.

"When we were putting out the research, we tongue-in-cheek mentioned that this was a real drop bear.

"It's not a bear, but it's not a lion either — so if you're going to be inaccurate about it, why not have some fun?"

National Geographic stated the "mythical drop bear" did not appear as a tall tale until the 20th century.

"So there's no link between what people actually saw and stories used to make tourists shudder at the sound of a creaking branch in the night," it stated.

Dr Arman said the drop bear legend was "something you'd apply to tourists because everyone has this idea about Australia being full of these deadly animals."

"When you [tell tourists] about this thing that falls out of trees and eats into your neck, they just go, 'oh yes, that sounds about right — everything here wants to kill you'," he said.

"I was travelling in the United States and I was pulling it out all the time."

He said the Americans believed him every time, along with the "hoop snake".

"That's another one where the snake grabs hold of its tail, like a mythical ouroboros thing, and is rolls across sand dunes," he said.

Other myths associated with the drop bears have included that Vegemite can repel the predator, placing forks in hair can prevent an attack and they target people with accents.

The drop bear urban legend is akin to the vampire folktale

Researchers from James Cook University explored "the Australian drop bear urban legend" which likened it to folktales of vampires.

"Isolated and somewhat removed from the rest of the world, Australia has developed its own distinct style of vampire narrative in the form of the drop bear urban legend," the research paper stated.

"In contrast with the vampire narratives found across the rest of the world, this uniquely Australian tale is more satirical than serious."

The paper — written by Catherine Livingstone, Felise Goldfinch and Rhian Morgan — explored Thylacoleo as being a similar species to the drop bear.

"The narrative occupies a conceptual space of possibility; infused with humour and ambiguity, and located somewhere between truth, lie, joke, fact and fiction."

Topics: animals, animals-and-nature, conservation, environment, adelaide-5000, kingscote-5223, penneshaw-5222, sa, australia

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