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A sure sign of spring: Korkeasaari bears wake from winter hibernation

In Finland nothing means spring is around the corner more in the south than news that the brown bears at Helsinki’s Korkeasaari Zoo have woken from their winter’s sleep. Zoo employees say the 16 and 11-year-old females’ hibernation is increasingly cut shorter as the years pass.

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Image: Mari Lehmonen / Korkeasaari

The star attractions of the Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki, two brown bears, have woken from their winter hibernation. Employees heard the first noises from the bears’ dens already on Tuesday.

But Friday was the first day they pawed their way out into the sunshine.

Zoo employees say the bears were clearly very hungry after three months of slumber.

A diet of raisins, nuts and apples were on hand for their first days of activity, but the zoo says the bears will be treated to some meat on the weekend. The route back to their man-made den is left open for these first few weeks, too, just in case the two capital city representatives of Finland’s national animal wish to continue their sweet dreams.

Interrupted sleep

Korkeasaari staff says the bears have slept more restlessly in recent years. Last year, they woke up from their hibernation very early, already in the first week of February. The year before that, the bears woke up in mid-January to eat and then resumed their hibernation.

This year, the bears were up and on their feet a few times earlier in the year, but then continued their slumber.

In Finland’s frigid climate bears have been known to hibernate for up to six months through the winter. It is typical for bears in the wild to wake up in late March-early April, when the thawing snow and ice means water begins to invade their den.

Farther south in Europe, where food is more widely available year round, Ursos arctos don’t hibernate at all.

Go to the zoo’s website to see a video of the bears venturing out in their enclosure for the first time. Back, neck and chin scratching included.

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