My perception of zoos has always been of prisons—places of suffering where animals are held captive for human entertainment. Smiling Bears offered a new perspective. Some (hopefully most) zoos provide a safe harbor to abused and rescued animals who could never return to their natural habitats. Zookeepers like Else Poulsen care for these creatures, accompanying them in their rehabilitation process. I imagine not all zoos and zookeepers meet these standards, but it is reassuring to know these things happen.
Few people know bears as intimately as Else Poulsen. She has raised bears, comforted bears, taught bears, learned from bears, had bears communicate their needs to her, and nursed bears back to health. This book offers remarkable insights into the complexity and richness of bears behavior and emotional life. Individual bear stories are often touching, as is the relationship they develop with their care keeper.