Brown bears in Estonia struggling to settle down to winter hibernation
An unusual amount of bear activity has been observed across Estonia, at a time when hibernation season should be well underway, agricultural weekly Maaleht reports - a phenomenon which this winter cannot be put down to mild temperatures.
Outdoorspeople say the cannot understand why so many bears have not started their winter hibernation and are still foraging for food, Maaleht reports (link in Estonian).
While it is not unheard of for a lone specimen to be disturbed during their slumber, by timber activity or hunters in pursuit of wild boar, they usually find a new sleeping spot within a matter of days, so this does not explain the larger numbers of ursine insomniacs.
Eleri Lopp, a spokesperson for Suurkiskjate MTÜ, an NGO involved in the protection of larger predators, said bears in Estonia would normally be in hibernation this late in the year and with the cold temperatures, adding: "My experience shows that the bears already leave their feeding grounds in mid-October and select a hibernation site, so presumably, they have been disturbed in their current winter quarters, either by logging or hunting."
"It could not be said that this autumn was too warm for these processes to have gotten underway," she added, noting that even before full hibernation, brown bears exhibit a noticeable slowing up in their activities and behavior in the lead-up to this.
Lopp also suggested that, while brown bears are not particularly numerous in Estonia, a recent rallying of numbers and also the felling of trees and other development means they have fewer options for isolation, than even a decade ago.
Hunters placing bait closer to areas inhabited by bears will have also had its impact, she said, and the number of bears growing accustomed to readily accessible food left around by homo sapiens sapiens may also be behind the rise in reports of bears entering areas of human settlement.
Larger, male bears in particular, however, prefer to be further from humans, while at the same time, being up and about in winter will be a major drain on their energy, Maaleht reported.
Younger bears, on the other hand, often make do with a small hole in the ground under a spruce tree (which can provide both cover and bedding), to the extent that it is perfectly possible for a member of the public to inadvertently step on a sleeping bear.
Traces of bears still roaming around Estonian forests include one with a footprint of around 18cm across, while a visual has been obtained on a mother and two cubs as well, hunter Aigar Jürjens told Maaleht.
The original Maaleht piece (in Estonian) is here.
The Eurasian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos) is the only species of bear found in Estonia, and likely numbers in the hundreds of specimens.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte