Australian Folklore: Drop Bears
Drop-bear stories are an integral part of Australian folk stories and urban legends. The cryptid is variously described as “a gigantic koala”, with enormous teeth, extra arms, and the ability to detect foreign accents from 10km away. Stories involving Drop-bears (Thylarctos plummetus) are told to tourists as a joke or prank with the idea being to scare them with true tales of Australia’s uniquely deadly wildlife (such as the taipan, the Sydney funnel-web, and the Salt-water Crocodile) to emphasise the very real possibility of dying while on holiday in Australia, then warn them that Drop-bears have been spotted in this very campsite. The wary tourists will ask how to avoid being mauled (or in some stories, eaten) by the marsupial bears, and they will be told to:
– Spread Vegemite on their face to cover their scent
– Make loud hooting or whooping noises to scare off the predators
– Avoid camping directly under a Eucalyptus tree, where the Drop-bears make their nests
Make no mistake, none of these strategies will work; they are designed to make you look silly and to provide many giggles over beer for the locals. The University of Tasmania have been tracking the movements of Drop-bears throughout tourist areas and monitoring their attacks on humans for years. In a 2012 paper they concluded that Drop-bears are able to tell the difference between an Australian accent and a foreign accent, and are not put off by Vegemite spread on the outside of a human’s head.
Dr Volker Janssen of the University of Tasmania has determined that Drop-bears are repelled by Vegemite exuded through the sweat glands, which occurs in almost all Australians as we tend to eat Vegemite at least once a day (although some reports estimate that around 10% of Australians will experience a Drop-bear attack at some time in their lives). Therefore, foreigners or those with Vegemite allergies can protect themselves by applying Vegemite directly to their armpits, and behind their ears, where all non-marsupials have pheremone glands.
If no Vegemite is available, some protection may be achieved by wearing forks in one’s hair or helmet in such a way that the tines poke upwards and will skewer the Drop-bear as it attempts to latch onto your head. In an emergency, marking your territory by urinating on yourself or your tent may also repel the highly territorial bears.
Please be safe this Drop-bear season. Avoid camping under Eucalyptus trees with low-hanging branches, and remember to bring Vegemite with you when you go on holiday.