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Helsinki zoo bears preparing for hibernation after exceptionally long year

The two females at Korkeasaari Zoo only slept for two months during the last unusually warm winter.

Kaksi karhua lepäilee pesäkolon oviaukolla.
Last year's milder winter kept the Korkeasaari bears awake until Christmas. Image: Korkeasaaren eläintarha/ Mari Lehmonen

Two of the biggest attractions at Helsinki's Korkeasaari Zoo - female brown bears aged 14 and 19 - are ready for their winter hibernation, according to zoo officials.

The bears have been showing signs of fatigue for the past few weeks and have been spending increasing amounts of time lounging in their winter dens.

"We have a mother and a daughter here. The mother is actually ready to sleep, but the daughter is still getting up to a bit of mischief," Korkeasaari Zoo curator Hanna-Maija Lahtinen told Yle.

This winter, the bears appear to be keeping to a more regular routine.

Story continues after photo.

Karhu kävelee eläintarhassa.
The bears have been showing signs of fatigue for a number of weeks. Image: Korkeasaaren eläintarha/ Annika Sorjonen
They had an exceptionally short amount of sleep last year, as they did not withdraw to their hibernation dens until Christmas. One reason for this was Finland’s unusually mild winter. They then awoke from their slumber in the middle of February.

"This is a more typical time [for hibernation] here in southern Finland, but in the north the bears at Ranua Zoo have certainly already fallen asleep," Lahtinen said.

Some winters, the Korkeasaari bears have hibernated for almost four months.

Typically, the bears wake up no later than early March.

The animals have been busy throughout the autumn preparing for their winter slumber by bulking up on foods such as berries, fruit and meat.

Story continues after photo.

Korkeasaaren eläintarhan karhu syö lihaa.
The Korkeasaari bears have prepared for hibernation by eating meat, berries and fruit. Image: Korkeasaaren eläintarha/ Annika Sorjonen
During hibernation, a bear's body temperature drops a few degrees from the normal 37 degrees Celsius, and its heart rate slows to about 10 beats per minute. Normally, the heart beats about 40 times a minute.

"Water is always available, so we don't need to know when a bear wants to go for a drink; they can go for a drink according to their own schedule," Lahtinen explained.

The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is Europe's largest predator and considered Finland's national animal. The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) estimated last year that there were between 2,020 and 2,130 bears in the country, mostly in the east and north.

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