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Hibernation of bears


Mag. Sigrid Zederbauer, the Bear Forest bear expert on the topic of hibernation:


What does an animal do in winter?

It collects provender, moves to warmer areas, looks for subterranean burrows, and the like. Bears "invented" a special kind of adaptation in the course of evolution; they collect provender, but "store" it at once in the form of fat deposits. That is, they use the richness of the autumn to fatten themselves up for the winter. Then they reduce their metabolism markedly and turn to a kind of energy-saving mode, hibernation.

 

Some rodents (e.g. sousliks, moles, etc.) turn down their bodily functions even more and fall into a true deep sleep, a hibernation. You could take these animals out of their burrows and they still would not awaken.


You should not get too close to a bear hibernating in its cave, since it can become "ready for action" rapidly. An animal the size of a bear cannot reduce its functional metabolism too much, because it would run the risk of not being able to raise it again.

 

We shouldn't think of hibernation as a rigid process; the environment is working here as a control. The beginning, end and interruptions of the resting condition depend on the temperature, the bear's food supply, provender and the like. Before seeking out its cave, a bear will rid its digestive system of all residual food. Grass, leaves and the like can often form a kind of plug in the rectum, causing the bear's feeding to be fallow. Rest phases of up to five months in cold areas are common.


Is hibernation possible when you keep the bears in created natural habitats?

FOUR PAWS' bear enclaves have shown that it is possible. Even some of the bears that used to have behavioural disturbances are now resting reliably every winter.

 

There are many factors involved: sufficient and correct food during the fattening season and adequate environments where the bear can retire. No disturbances - neither from visitors nor from other bears. Finally, the bear must feel safe; it cannot hibernate unless it is free from stress of any kind.


The hibernation process was implemented astonishingly well with some of our bears, though others are still "gnawing" at their past and are not yet getting along 100% in their new lives. In this case, it is our job to be patient and constantly work to improve the conditions for these bears.


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