If you’re the kind of diehard vegan who’s prone to statements like “I would rather die than eat meat,” you’d probably get along really well with a species of bears known as “cave bears.” Unfortunately, cave bears went extinct about 25,000 years ago, and recent research suggests that their inflexible diet may have actually been the cause. Yup, these were some seriously hardcore bears.
Who cares what a bunch of bears eat as long as they stay away from my pic-a-nic basket, you may be wondering. Well, the team of international researchers behind the study wanted to compare the diet of the cave bear to that of the very-not-extinct brown bear, a closely related species, to see if what these animals ate played a factor in why one survived while the other perished.
Brown bears are omnivores, with the animal’s diet changing depending on what’s available during different times of the year. Meanwhile, to determine the diet of cave bears which have been extinct for thousands of years, scientists had to analyze the isotope composition of individual amino acids in the collagen found in cave bear bones. Luckily, as their name suggests, these animals hibernated (and therefore sometimes died) in caves, meaning plenty of bones have been well preserved. After examining these remains, the researchers decided that cave bears were almost certainly pickier eaters than their brown cousins. “According to our newest findings, these extinct relatives of the brown bear lived on a strictly vegan diet,” Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen, one of the paper’s authors, said according to Phys.org.
As for whether this diet lead to the species extinction, Bocherens believes his team’s findings point in that direction. “We assume that this unbalanced diet, in combination with the reduced supply of plants during the last ice age, ultimately led to the cave bear's extinction,” he said, comparing these ancient cave bear with “today’s giant panda” – an ominous example.
In a larger sense, the study speaks to how important diet can be for many animals. Though some species are able to adapt as food resources change, others need a specific diet to survive. It’s not that they’re, like, super into their convictions; it’s just how nature works.