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These Real-Life Teddy Bears Will Live To See Another Day

Things are looking up for threatened Louisiana black bears - rare 600-pound predators who happen to be the inspiration behind everyone's favorite ursine toy.

These real-life teddy bears, who were listed as threatened in 1992, now have a less than 1 percent chance of disappearing within the next century, according to new research by the U.S. Geological Survey. Hunting, an influx of roads, and a loss of habitat had previously endangered the bears. But thanks to more than a million acres of preserved habitat, the bears are likely to stick around for years to come - just like their cotton-filled counterparts.

Teddy bears owe their namesake to President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1902 found himself on the equivalent of a canned trophy hunt. As Smithsonian magazine tells it:

When the president caught up with [his guide] Collier, he came upon a horrific scene: a bloody, gasping bear tied to a tree, dead and injured dogs, a crowd of hunters shouting, "Let the president shoot the bear!" ... But he refused to draw his gun, believing such a kill would be unsportsmanlike.

Word spread of Roosevelt's reluctance to fire a shot at a trussed-up black bear, and a meme was born. (This morphed into the plush "Teddy's bear," spawning legions of cuddly animal effigies, an industry now worth $1.39 billion.)

A 1902 cartoon in The Washington Post. (Clifford Kennedy Berryman/Wikimedia/Public Domain)

Today, the Louisiana black bear is one of 16 subspecies of black bear in the U.S. The researchers' latest forecast is a best estimate based on DNA analysis and tracking the bears' habits.

"The completion of this project represents many years of collaborative work and we're excited about the results," Maria Davidson, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said in a statement. "The information provided by this project is based on the best available science, enabling us to make management decisions focused on the long term sustainability of the Louisiana black bear."