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What Is the State Animal of California?

By Nicole Long
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state animal of California is the California grizzly bear, scientific name ursus californicus. A California grizzly adorns the state flag and serves as a symbol of power. Legislators designated the California grizzly as the state animal of California in 1953, well after the designation of other state symbols.

A carnivore, the California grizzly bear was thought by some to be more of a problem than an attribute in the region. Settlers moving to California found the animal throughout much of the region, including the valleys and coastal areas of the state. Discovery of gold in the region and the influx of settlers and livestock were largely responsible for the eventual demise of the animal in California.

The last California grizzly bear known to exist in California was killed in 1922 according to the California State Library. Protecting livestock was a priority, and grizzlies became a target of ranchers and other settlers. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if the bear had survived until the California Fish and Game Commission was founded 20 years later.

California grizzlies graced the state flag before they were recognized as the state animal of California. In fact, the depiction of the bear on the state flag was adopted as the official state flag in 1911. Known as the Bear Flag, it would later be updated to meet exacting standards as to the correct depiction of the grizzly on the flag.

In January 1953, the California legislature introduced legislation to make the state animal of California official. During this process, the legislature also took the time to define the exact characteristics and positioning of the new state animal of California on the state flag. Among the requirements for the positioning of the grizzly is that the grizzly must be positioned on a green plot of grass facing towards the left. The legislation also designated the proper colorings of the bear’s various features and the flag background.

Other California state animal-based symbols were also adopted over the years. Some preceded the adoption of the grizzly as the state animal and others followed. Prior to the adoption of the grizzly, the state of California adopted the state bird, the California quail, in 1931 and the state fish, the golden trout, in 1947. The state marine mammal, the California gray whale, was made official in 1975. Other state symbols include the state fossil, the saber-toothed cat, and the state insect, the California dogface butterfly.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Mar 07, 2012

@Iluviaporos - I saw a documentary recently on the wolves that have been reintroduced to Yellowstone Park and how they have been interacting with the local grizzly bear population there.

It's an interaction that hasn't been seen for a long time, so it's very interesting to rangers and scientists.

It does make me wonder if one day the grizzly can be reintroduced to California. There are still some wild places in that state, and if they are carefully managed it might be possible.

Of course whether people there would agree to allowing such a dangerous predator (well, dangerous in the sense that it is a powerful predator) back into their state is a question.

By lluviaporos — On Mar 07, 2012

@indigomoth - I actually find it really sad that California's state animal has been extinct for so long.

I always think of extinctions as things that have happened in the last few decades, but this happened a while ago. I don't think there's any chance that they could introduce the bears back again though as I doubt they would have enough territory to hunt in.

In fact there are very few places in the United States where grizzlies still live.

Luckily they exist in greater numbers in Canada and they are now recognized as a vital part of the ecology of North America so methods are being put into practice to protect them.

By indigomoth — On Mar 06, 2012

I think it's kind of cool that they decided to make the California quail the state bird, when the state animal is the grizzly. They could just as easily have chosen an aggressive predator bird to match the bear, but they chose an elegant, chubby and somewhat comical bird instead.

That might have been because they were a food bird of course.

It's also kind of ironic that the mighty grizzly is now extinct in California but the quail is common and in fact has been introduced all over the world. I used to see them all the time by the sides of the road in the countryside in New Zealand.

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