The Short, Unhappy Life of a Meme Animal

R.I.P., Falling Bear, who burst onto the viral scene less than a week ago. We hardly knew ye.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

R.I.P., Falling Bear, who burst onto the viral scene less than a week ago, spreading like wildlife wildfire into the meme of the moment and even generating a copyright dispute over the original photo and a policy change at the University of Colorado with regard to the work of student journalists. We hardly knew ye. Part of this, of course, is because you were a bear, and one doesn't really "know" bears, not really, not ever. They're hard to get close to. But the other part is that you are no longer with us, and therefore, even if we weren't terrified of you in the moments when you weren't tranquilized and falling out of trees and being viewed in photographs, we would not be able to meet you and get to know you. Because you are dead.

Yes, the bear that fell from the tree, the bear that we laughed at (because he wasn't laughing, not in that picture, and certainly not now), so hilarious and effortless and perfect was his fall, at least to the eyes of the Internet public: That bear has been hit by a car and killed. But let's backtrack. On April 26, last Saturday, the bear climbed up a tree near some dorms at the University of Colorado. He was seen, tranquilized, and dropped in his beauteous pose onto some Rec Center mats placed below the tree, a sight captured in a photo which inspired memes like the ones at right and those above. We know little of him other than his age (one to three) and his weight (280 pounds according to the death reports). We do not know if he was a he, but we are calling him one because he gives off a slightly masculine vibe. After the fall, he was "relocated" to a higher elevation. Near cars.

At the time, student Lauren Cross pointed out to the CU Independent, for whom Andy Duann took the epic bear-falling shot, that we were encroaching on the bear's territory, and not vice versa:

“I think it’s a shame that we can’t all live peacefully with nature, I mean we encroached on their territory,” Cross said. “That bear had to fall a long ways from that tree.”

One can only imagine what Cross would say upon the news that less than a week later, the bear had met a tragic end, as Joe Rubino writes in the Daily Camera, "in the Denver-bound lanes of U.S. 36." Falling Bear was hit by a car at 5:40 a.m. Thursday and positively identified "as the same animal tranquilized April 26 and relocated to a wilderness area about 50 miles west of Boulder." Two cars—a Toyota Camry and a Ford Focus—were involved, and one driver sustained minor injuries. At least one car was totaled. But more importantly, the bear. The bear.

Jennifer Churchill, spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said what we're all feeling: "It's a bummer."

It is, yes. However, it's worth pointing out that we wouldn't know any of this if the bear hadn't fallen from the tree and received an ear tag and made us laugh, and now cry. So, at least he, like the poor almost famous no-eared bunny, is getting his 15 minutes. That's really all a surprisingly viral meme-generating animal can ask for in these modern times. Goodnight, Falling Bear. Goodnight.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.