Why bears are coming out of hibernation early

By Manish Pandey
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
Bear in Moscow ZooImage source, Getty Images

From Russia and Finland to Canada and the US, there's been multiple sightings of bears around the world.

That might not sound too weird - but bears aren't normally spotted this early in the year, which makes this pretty unusual.

They usually stay in hibernation - which is like a deep sleep that helps them to save energy - and survive the winter without eating much.

But Europe has just had its hottest ever winter - and the US also experienced warmer temperatures in December and January - which has been linked to climate change.

All of which has caused bears to be on the prowl a bit earlier than normal.

According to wildlife expert Alan Wright, the early emergence from hibernation isn't good for the bears or humans.

What's the impact on bears?

Alan, who works at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, says the big issue for bears is around the availability of food.

"They'll be looking for it and there won't be a lot around - because a lot of the plants and smaller animals might not be there to feed them."

Bears need food quickly after coming out from hibernation because soon, it'll be breeding season.

He says there'll be "a lot of cubs" that will be born with parents who won't be strong enough to feed them "the right kind of food".

"They could definitely suffer," he adds. "It means a lot of cubs might not make it through spring."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A bear and cub at Yellowstone National Park in the US, where bears have come out of hibernation earlier than usual

That could have knock-on effects like greater bear and human interaction, which would be potentially bad news for humans too.

"Normally a bear will not want to engage with humanity, they just want to do their own thing," Alan says.

But if there isn't enough food, they'll look further afield - which means getting closer to humans.

"They'll be going into areas where humans have food and they'll try to get that food."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Bears could enter human areas if they cannot find enough food

"You hear of bears trying to break into cars in some areas - and if they're hungry, they'll go out looking a bit more."

Alan says that only happens if the bears become "really desperate" - which comes from hunger and the need to feed their young.

Last year, a Russian region declared a state of emergency over dozens of polar bears looking for food in areas where humans live and attacking them.

"Bears should really only be in zoos and obviously wildlife areas where humans are a good distance away."

The bears in the Moscow Zoo emerged from hibernation early but officials had been expecting it - and had measures in place to make sure they could cope with the early exit.

Female bears with cubs usually don't emerge until after April.

'It's scary - but sad and desperate'

Alan says if humans come into contact with bears, they should stay away.

"They won't be looking to attack humans unless the humans actually get in the way."

The best thing to do is get out of the way and call the relevant authorities. The National Park Service in America also suggest keeping bear spray as a deterrent and staying calm.

"I certainly wouldn't advise anybody getting too close to them because they're fearsome."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
If adult bears are unable to get hold of food, some cubs may not make it through spring

But for Alan, people should be more worried about the bears than themselves.

"I wouldn't want people to be too frightened of bears coming out of hibernation. It's scary but also very sad and desperate too.

"I think what we should do is understand why they're doing that and the kind of situations they face."

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