A bear playing in the snow at the Romanian Sanctuary

Bears hibernating at the Romanian Sanctuary


Winter has arrived at the bear sanctuary in Romania.

By Victor Watkins, our global bear expert

The snow came, and then went for a few weeks, and soon it will come to stay for a few months, during which time the sanctuary will be carpeted in a thick blanket of snow.

The bears living at the sanctuary were mostly rescued from cages around the country, where they were unable to hibernate properly. At the huge forest sanctuary many of the bears seem to know instinctively how to dig a den where they can safely sleep for weeks, or even for a couple of months, until the snows disappear.


Photo: World Animal Protection

Hibernation in bears is a physical response to the onset of heavy snow when food becomes scarce. In the Carpathian Mountains surrounding the sanctuary there will be many wild bears starting their long winter sleep as they will not be able to find food easily for a few months.

At the sanctuary, the staff from our partner animal protection organisation - Millions of Friends (AMP) - ensure that there is always food available. Every day they provide fresh food for any bear who is still awake. That’s usually quite a few, as the bears seem to enjoy the snowy weather and often play, wrestle and sleep in the snow-filled meadow areas. The AMP staff have made sure the bears eat a lot of food before winter and you can see that in the wobbly bellies of the bears walking around. This enables them to sleep for long periods and live off their fat, but if food is available some bears decide they don’t need to sleep.


Gina eating and playing at the Romanian Bear Sanctuary. Photo: Millions of Friends (AMP)

One evening recently, I watched a bear as he dug out a shallow hollow in the snow and earth next to one of the large fresh water pools, which by then had iced over. It was fascinating to watch as the bear trundled off and came back with branches and leaves. He then spent around an hour placing them in a nest before settling in to sleep. Despite this he was up again the next day and eating the fruit thrown over the fence along with a group of similarly fat-bellied bears who were not yet ready to hibernate.

Find out more about the Romanian Sanctuary and see the bears in action with a live stream >

Victor Watkins is global bear expert for World Animal Protection and author of the illustrated book Bear Sanctuary which tells the story of World Animal Protection’s work to rescue over 90 bears from cruel captivity in Romania. Read more about Victor and his work.

More about