Questions and answers about hibernation
In our advent calendar from December 2019, we already answered many of your questions about hibernation and the bears in short videos. If you don't know these videos yet, you can watch them here on Instagram.
We collected all your questions and put them together in a little FAQ. If you have more questions, feel free to contact us anytime!
How long do bears hibernate?
The bears at our sanctuary hibernate for different lengths of time. Some bears disappear for up to four to six months und rarely show themselves during that time. They withdraw into their dens that we sometimes can’t even see from the other side of the fence. Other bears still show up from time to time and look for food. In the wild, bears hibernate for around two to six months, too.
Will Rocco hibernate this winter?
Of all our 17 bears, Rocco is the most active one at the moment (January 2020). He still plays with tree trunks and balls but the already became calmer since this summer. We don’t know yet, if he will hibernate during the first winter he spends at our bear sanctuary. It’s something new for Rocco, he never hibernated before. But we already witnessed big surprises with other bears – for example Luna, who dug a den for hibernation during her first winter at our rescue center – so maybe Rocco will hibernate after all. We can’t say for sure yet.
Is it cold in the dens? Are they heated?
The bear houses and cabins the bears can use to hibernate besides their own dens, aren’t heated. We spread straw and saw dust layers on the ground so that the bears don’t lay on the concrete floor. The dens our bears dig themselves, don’t get extra cushion from us. If needed, the bears cushion it on their own. They use leaves or moss for it. The dens are just big enough for them to turn around inside. That way, the body temperature can’t escape that quickly and helps to keep the den warm. Inside of the den remain plus degrees, while outside the temperature can drop below zero.
Do the bears sleep along in their dens?
The bears usually sleep alone in their den. They dig their dens they use to hibernate by themselves and withdraw alone to sleep during winter. But we do have some exceptions at our sanctuary. Michal and Tapsi hibernate together in a den. Moreover, we have the siblings Sylvia and Pavle who share one straw bed in winter and the bear brothers Ben and Felix hibernate together, too.
Do you feed the bears during hibernation?
The bears don’t get as much food in winter as they get in summer or in fall. That’s when they build up fat reserves for the colder period. During winter, there is no active feeding. We only give food, when the bears need it and observe the bears’ behavior. If we notice that they are looking for food, we give them some. But if we don’t see the bears, it means they are really hibernating. When there’s still food laying in their enclosures, we know the bears withdrew in their dens and don’t need more food for hibernation.
Which of your bears hibernates the longest?
How long the bears hibernate can differ from year to year. It depends among other things on how strong the winter is. Mostly it’s Clara and Mary who are the first bears going into hibernation. We’d say that Clara also hibernates the longest, because she usually starts hibernating at the end of October and only shows up again at the beginning of March. Whereas the other bears go into hibernation around January and already wake up again mid of March.
Is Rocco digging a den?
Even though we still can’t say whether Rocco is going to hibernate this year or even next year, we discovered a little path in his enclosure. Rocco dug this path starting from one of our artificial winter dens. It is possible, that Rocco is going to use it for hibernation. Because it looks similar to the dens other bears have been building. But the sleeping place is not finished yet, Rocco keeps on digging. We still can’t say for sure whether Rocco is really going to use it for hibernation.
Do all bears dig their own den?
Our bears hibernate at different places. Around 50 % of them dig their own dens, the others use the artificial dens or boxes in the bear houses. For example, Katja and Ida hibernate in concrete tubes on a straw bed. Sometimes the bears use self-dug dens from the past years, that are still undamaged. Or they dig new dens for the winter. It can happen that when a bear finished digging his den, another bear steals it for his hibernation. The bear then has to start all over again.
What happens during hibernation?
During that time, the metabolism slows down, the bears are very lazy. Heart and breath rate slow down, too. You can compare it with when people are in a deep-sleep phase. In case of danger, they can wake up anytime. Some bears completely disappear for about three months and don’t drink or eat anything. Others sometimes leave their dens when it’s good weather and look for food. But they don’t eat a lot, at the most about three kilos. Then they go back to sleep.
Were the bears able to hibernate before you rescued them?
Whether the rescued bears from Germany were able to hibernate before, is hard to say. At our sanctuary, all of them hibernate in winter. The rescued bears from Eastern Europe never had the chance to withdraw in winter, before they got to our sanctuary. Luna from Albania, who was rescued in 2017, never hibernated before. During her first winter here, she started digging her very first den right away and used it for hibernation. Michal from Poland also hibernates every year. He shares his den with Tapsi. Dushi, who arrived at our sanctuary this year in April and never had the chance to sleep in winter, started already hibernating in October. Regarding Rocco we still can’t say whether he’ll hibernate this winter.
You want to know how the dens look from the inside? We give you a little tour:
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