For bear enthusiasts, a specialised wildlife holiday provides the opportunity to observe these astounding animals at fairly close range. With a qualified, experienced naturalist guide, aspiring bear watchers can better interpret the habits and behaviour of the elusive, often misunderstood bear. Like most specialist fields, the world of wildlife watching uses a certain set of terms to describe animal behaviour. Mastering this zoological terminology can help a novice bear watcher become an expert in no time.
Generally speaking, most bears are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and sleep at night, as humans do. However, bears living near towns and settlements are more likely to be nocturnal, sleeping during the day and roaming looking for food at night in order to avoid humans. You might also find that the prime time for seeing bears on your wildlife holiday is either at dawn or dusk, as some bears tend to be crepuscular, that is, active during the twilight hours.
The Bear Diet
Like humans, most bears are omnivores, feeding on both plants and animals. There are a few exceptions, however. The carnivorous Polar Bear, for example, has evolved to feed almost exclusively on marine mammals like the ringed seal, in the absence of vegetation in the Arctic Circle. The Giant Panda, on the other hand, is a herbivore, eating only bamboo shoots - sometimes up to 14kg per day.
Bears spend much of their time foraging, searching widely for fruits, nuts, roots, acorns, and other food sources. They are both extremely curious and extremely opportunistic, and will investigate almost anything as a potential source of food. One of the best times to catch a bear feeding is during the annual salmon run, when Atlantic and Pacific salmon swim upstream to spawn. On their way, some of these salmon will inevitably be caught and eaten by Black and Brown Bears, who know their habits well.
Speaking the Bear Language
Bears are known for their threatening growl, but they also have a wide range of other vocalisations. A bear moaning is probably issuing a mild threat, while a barking bear is likely alarmed or excited. You might hear a bear huffing during courtship or to warn its cubs of imminent danger. Growling and roaring are both warning, intimidating sounds that firmly proclaim the bear's territorial rights. If you're lucky enough to catch sight of some bear cubs on your wildlife holiday, you might hear them humming, which is a likely sign of contentment, similar to a cat's purr.
Sleeping Like a Bear
Most northern bears, except the Polar Bear, hibernate during the winter months. In late autumn, the Black and Brown will retreat into its den, a burrow-like shelter, to sleep out the cold, barren season. Its body temperature will drop and its metabolism will slow, enabling it to spend three to eight months without food or without eliminating waste. Before hibernating, a bear enters a period of hyperphagia, or excessive eating, in order to put on the body fat stores that will sustain them until spring. Amazingly, females give birth to their cubs during the hibernation period, and sustain them until the snow melts. One bear may enter the den in the autumn, but in the spring, you might just see three or four emerge!
Bears are complex, fascinating animals and have long captured the human imagination. During a bear watching wildlife holiday, you'll have the privilege of observing these wild animals as nature made them. With a highly qualified expert as your guide, any nature novice can come to understand these awe-inspiring animals.