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Hibernating bears in B.C. waking up months earlier than usual

Mar 01. 16

By Karen Graham. Black bears usually emerge from hibernation between march and May, however, B.C.'s conservation service has already had over 130 calls about bears, according to WildSafe BC.While it may seem unusual, be assured that the early awakening from hibernation isn't just confined to British Columbia's bears.

From Finland to Yellowstone National Park and Virginia and beyond, mild winters are having an impact on the hibernation habits of many animals.

Bear biologists are seeing bears waking up early, and this puts them in danger of starving because there is not enough food for them to eat. Adding to not finding food, when bears in B.C. went into hibernation last November, they were still a little hungry, due to the long, hot, dry summer.

Frank Ritcey, the provincial coordinator of WildSafeBC, spoke with Daybreak South host Chris Walker on Monday. Ritcey said they won't know the extent of the problems that waking early may end up causing until the majority of the bears are awake.

As for why the bears wake up early, no one knows for sure, says Ritcey, but it does have a lot to do with the amount of fat they build up before hibernating. Bears need great stores of fat for their winter hibernation, and can easily eat up to 20,000 calories a day.

But the real problem is not having enough to eat, and that can cause a lot of unwanted incidents. "So what they do is come into town looking for garbage and the like," he said. "So it's important that people be vigilant at this time of year and keep their garbage in until the time of collection."

Early awakenings in other parts of the world

At the Helsinki Zoo on February 9, while snow was still on the ground, a pair of brown bears, ages 10 and 15, emerged from their man-made den, much to the zookeeper's surprise. The pair went into hibernation in November last year and weren't expected to wake up until the end of March. Zoo staff blames the early awakenings on a mild winter in Finland.

And in the southern part of the U.S., the Wildlife Center of Virginia took in its first yearling black bear of the season on February 7. In a repeat of what happened last year at this time, youngsters are awakening and not finding enough food to eat. Last year, dozens of yearlings had to be rescued and feed until food became available in the wild. And like in B.C., wildlife specialists remind folks to not feed the bears but call the wildlife center instead.

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