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What is a Drop Bear?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Of all the fictional or fairytale creatures, such as the jackalope or the wild haggis, the drop bear is likely one of the most vicious. Native to Australia, or so the rumor goes, this made up relative of the koala is dangerous indeed, especially to tourists. Sometimes locals like to have a bit of fun with non-residents of Australia by suggesting they should be on alert for a drop bear attack. This carnivorous cousin to the cuddly koala drops out of trees onto unsuspecting tourists. Sources differ, but most say no one survives to tell the tale of a drop bear attack.

According to locals, there are several ways to prevent a drop bear attack. Spreading Vegemite or toothpaste behind the ears may keep drop bears away. Wearing forks on your head or helmets with spikes might prevent you from dying at the paws of a drop bear. Other local traditions suggest peeing on your shoes, before going on a walkabout. Drinking beer or pretending to have an Australian accent may attract the interest of drop bears and is to be discouraged.

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As the legend of the drop bear has evolved, people have even gone to the trouble of creating different types of drop bears. These include Alpine, Burrowing and Aquatic types. It’s unknown how the legend got started, but there are some plausible explanations. First, telling tales of these vicious beasts may have been a way to keep children away from eucalyptus trees. These particular trees do pose a danger, especially during high winds because they have shallow roots and are prone to falling down. Investigating burrows or straying far afield can pose a danger in the bush to anyone, since there are numerous poisonous snakes which should be avoided.

Another possible source for the development of this legend is based on the real existence of an ancient marsupial, now extinct, that was considerably larger than a koala. The marsupial lion or Thylacoleo carnifex was about the size of a lion. It may have roosted in trees and may have dropped from the trees to attack prey. Fortunately, these savage lions were completely extinct by about 38,000 BCE. There’s little likelihood of encountering one today, unless you happen upon a fossilized version.

Nevertheless, if you’re visiting Australia, you might just find drop bears mentioned as a possible danger. The best way to avoid being scared is to have a good laugh with the person who mentions them. You can also find a few commercials on YouTube that play on the legend. In particular, look for the Bundaberg Rum commercial of 2004, where a polar bear like creature, clearly the Alpine version of the drop bear, falls out of a tree to crush an empty tent.

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