Bears are fascinating, complicated creatures, but they are often misunderstood and feared. A bear-focused wildlife holiday with a qualified guide is the perfect opportunity to observe and learn about the behaviour of these magnificent animals.
There is a widespread misconception that bears are naturally nocturnal. They are, in fact, generally diurnal like humans – that is, active during the day. Some that live in close proximity to humans are active at night, and might raid rubbish bins or crops while avoiding sleeping humans.
By and large, bears are solitary creatures, and are considered relatively antisocial compared to the other animals in the order Carnivora, such as wolves or lions. The only times you’re likely to see bears together in small groups are during seasonal feeding events like salmon runs, or when a mother ventures forth with her cubs. Although largely solitary, they are extremely curious creatures. They will investigate noises, odours, and objects to determine whether they could be edible. If you’re observing bears on a wildlife holiday, don’t be alarmed if you notice one stand on its hind legs to better see, hear, and smell what’s in front of them. Many people think this behaviour indicates a charge, but the animal is simply curious.
If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear a range of different sounds from the bears you’re observing during your wildlife holiday. You may be most familiar with the growl, which is typically a warning sound, but they also moan, bark, huff, roar, and hum. Moaning normally constitutes a mild warning, while barking is done to demonstrate alarm or excitement. You might hear a bear huffing if you stumble upon a courting pair, or roaring if it is seeking to intimidate. Humming is normally observed in cubs, which emit a sort of buzzing sound to show pleasure, much like a cat’s purr.
Most northern bears, except the Polar Bear, enter a period of winter dormancy as the temperature drops and food becomes scarce. As winter nears, they enter a phase of hyperphagy, or excessive eating, to gain fat deposits for the long sleep ahead. In hibernating bears, body temperature drops and the metabolic rate slows, allowing the animal to go for months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating. Hibernation can last between three and eight months, with bears losing 25-40% of their body weight by the time they emerge in the spring.
If you’re on a wildlife holiday between May and July, you’re likely to observe bears in mating season. Courtship is very brief, and mothers raise cubs alone. Northern bears tend to reproduce seasonally, with cubs born toward the end of the hibernation period. Cubs are born blind, bald, toothless, and totally helpless. They stay with their mother for two to three years, until she chases them off to begin her next breeding cycle.
If you’re keen to observe the fascinating behaviours of bears, a dedicated wildlife holiday is a safe and informative way to do just that. With a qualified, highly knowledgeable guide, the secret world of bears opens up for you to explore.