Most people heading off on bear tours to either Europe or Canada choose this kind of wildlife holiday because they have an existing fascination with these wonderful creatures. Indeed, they really are interesting animals, with intriguing and somewhat complex behaviours. Hibernation is one part of their existence that always proves a popular topic among wildlife enthusiasts.
If you have booked on to one of the range of organised bear tours, you will no doubt be travelling at a time when animals are no longer in hibernation, as you would be unlikely to see any otherwise. But what is hibernation, really, and why do these animals spend months in a deep slumber surviving with no sustenance at all?
Why do Bears Hibernate?
Bears hibernate through pure necessity. Conditions in their habitat can be harsh and, particularly in winter, the animals find it very hard to function efficiently when food is often scarce and temperatures plummet. It is therefore easier and more effective for them to become dormant and sleep through the hard times, thus conserving energy and staying warm. During hibernation their metabolism slows down and fat reserves are used up at a slow and steady rate. They eat and drink nothing when they hibernate and therefore do not need to eliminate waste either.
What About in Captivity?
If you don’t get the opportunity to go on any of the fantastic bear tours available, you can always visit a zoo to observe the animals up close and personal. While its nowhere near the same experience, bears in captivity do not need to hibernate so you can usually observe them at any time. Food is plentiful, as is water, so therefore the animals do not need to become dormant to survive. They may, however, simply through an evolutionary mechanism, slow down in the wintertime and become more listless and eat less. A bear in captivity displays much the same behaviour as one in the wild and so, due to instinct, it will often sleep during the day. Pregnant bears in captivity usually still hibernate as a way of conserving energy for their offspring.
How Long do they Hibernate?
Hibernation begins in October and comes to an end sometime in April or May. Spring brings with it new growth and a plentiful supply of nutrient-rich food sources, which encourages the reflex to awaken and replenish their reserves.
If you embark on one of the excellent bear tours run by a reputable and experienced wildlife travel company, the trip will be led by an expert guide well versed in the animals’ behaviour and their yearly (and daily) cycles. You’ll be able to gain a fascinating insight into these wonderful creatures.