Bear Fostering: a Brown She-bear and Her Offspring

Bear Fostering: a Brown She-bear and Her Offspring

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About the way the bear became a symbol of Russia and why she-bears are the best mothers among all animals.

The coat of arms, hymn, and flag of any country most fully characterize its spiritual and political foundations, traditions, and features of a national character. But Russia also has such an interesting national symbol as bear, since ancient times the animal has been considered to be the recognized the master of forests, having no equals in strength. This very animal has been the embodiment of courage, intelligence, dexterity for Russians ... Besides, the symbol of the Olympics Games-1980 in Moscow was the famous bear cub: the balloon depicting the animal showed a kind smile in the Moscow skies at the closing of the games. The bear is also a symbol of the leading Russian political party titled “United Russia”. Therefore, it is not an accident that the bear’s image is the image of Russia in the world.

But let’s move from an abstract bear to the talk about definite bears living in the Baikal region, feeling themselves the masters of these places. However, I want to tell not about the master of the taiga, but about the animal’s wife and descendants - bear cubs.

The largest number of brown bears lives in the specially protected areas of Lake Baikal.

A she-bear in Russian fairy tales is respectfully called mother-bear, Avdotya Toptygina, Akulina, Matryona Mikhailovna, Aksinya (female human names).

The Siberian brown bear reaches 2.5 meters long and up to 1.5 meters high at the shoulder. The average weight of a male makes up about 350-400 kg, males are about one and a half times larger than females who gain up to 250 kg during adult age.

Newborn bear cubs and their first home

A bear cub is born in a den arranged under large stones, in crevices, among the tree roots turned inside out, sometimes in caves or large burrows. The actual “sleeping place” in the den is not very large, the space for having rest is not too big, but the she-bear takes its arrangement very responsibly. The winter dwelling is lined with moss, dry leaves, branches of coniferous trees. As a rule, the she-bear hides into the den on the eve of heavy snowfalls. Her hibernation is not an anabiosis, but a real sleep; however, the processes of metabolism are slowing down, respiration becomes less frequent (respiration rate is reduced to about once in 4 minutes), but the normal body temperature is preserved, and the she-bear is able to restore active way of life immediately. As a number of experts specify, when a she-bear in the den is disturbed, even if she has cubs there, the animal runs away and almost never comes back. It is believed that her maternal instinct is developing only during the process of fostering of cubs.

The she-bear does not give birth to cubs every year, as a rule, this happens in January, there are an average of 1-2 cubs, but the employees of the specially protected areas of Lake Baikal note that there are cases when three cubs appear in a den simultaneously.

Newborn cubs are tiny (weighing about 500 grams), blind, deaf, toothless, almost naked.

The small size of the dens and the meager weight of cubs at birth are explained by the severe laws of nature. The limited size of the first bear’s home allows the she-bear to warm up the offspring in a better way. The meaning of such a low body mass, more similar to the weight of a puppy, is connected with the fact that the bear could not raise larger cubs feeding only on fat reserves. And such tiny cubs, even during childbirth, do not particularly bother the she-bear, although some researchers state that during childbirth the she-bear wakes up, licks the cubs clean and then goes “hibernating” again. The cubs immediately hide into in dense maternal fur, find one of the 6 nipples and begin to suck very fat milk, eating it until the age of 4 months. And at that time their main occupation is to eat and sleep. During this time their auditory passages open up (at the age of about 2 weeks), and about in a month the cubs begin to see.

In spring, when the time to leave the den finally comes, the weight of the cubs grows 4-5 times; they become covered with fur and can move actively.

What and how the she-bear teaches her offspring

It turns out that scientists have built a “ladder” of responsibility of living creatures in fostering their offspring, and according to this scale, bears take the third place in terms of caring for their offspring after humans and primates. Now we know that the approach of the she-bear to propagation is, in fact, based on “human concepts”: she pays attention not to the number of children, but to the quality of their protection, training, adaptation to life. Besides, she-bears are very caring mothers.

The period of exit from the den is different for male and female bears. As a rule, she-bears go outside after hibernation later, when numerous thawed patches of grass appear in the forest. Moreover, the cubs have already all their milk teeth by the age of 3 months, so they can eat greens and insects.

Above all, the behavior of male and female bears is different. If males, leaving the den, care about getting food purely for themselves in order to quickly gain weight, then females, no matter how hungry they are, give the food they found to the cubs. Moreover, if the male is very hungry, he can try to eat the cubs, which is strictly stopped by the she-bear who not only actively hides the offspring, but also selflessly drives the male bear away.

The father bear does not take any part in the fostering of the offspring.

As the cubs enter “the big world" with their mother, they begin to learn the fundamentals of life in nature under the mother’s care. It is she who gives the offspring the first lessons of what we call “social behavior”. At the age of 4 months bear cubs are already looking for food in the forest together with their mother, paying attention to everything they can eat. During the game process bear cubs develop the basic skills needed for adult bear life, and, first and foremost, in hunting. The rest of the time they spend on sleep.

The cubs play very actively - they run around, push each other, fight, they “stick their noses” everywhere, are keenly interested in others, climb the trees. Everyone pays attention to the incredible endurance of the mother, who is patient when the cubs climb on her, bite her, pull her her tail and paws. But if she gets angry ... A restless cub can get a powerful slap and hear an angry roar.

The main goal of the she-bear during the first year of life of the offspring is to teach them to look for food, swim, climb the trees and, most importantly, hunt.

Search for food and bear’s “nannies”

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Bear cubs from the last brood are called yearlings (this year’s brood), however, the cubs from the previous brood – fosterers – often stick with their mother: these cubs help the she-bear to take care of the younger ones. Some say they are called so because they look after their brothers and sisters, “foster” them. They are a kind of nannies instilling the principle of “do as I do” in the cubs in practice.

Although bears are predators, they are omnivorous. Naturally, the cubs must master the knowledge of what and how should be used for food with the help of their mother and nannies. Therefore, they are looking for plants that bear fruits, are glad to pick berries, don’t refuse from eating mushrooms. A variety of insects are also eaten - for example, a bear cub will be taught to eat not only adult ants in an anthill, but also the larvae.

An important lesson is picking nuts. Only small young bears can climb the trees, because adults lose this ability due of the peculiar structure of their claws and paws. Accordingly, the main interest is represented by the Siberian dwarf-pine, fallen cones and the stocks of nutcracker birds are hidden in burrows among moss, so bear cubs are taught to destroy these burrows.

A special place for obtaining food is Baikal, thebear family regularly descends to its coast. Such great interest is caused by coastal seal-rookeries of ringed seals. One of the famous places of this kind is located at the Sagan-Maryan cape, but it is inaccessible from the coast due to the coastal rocks. Local old-timers say that the she-bear with the youngest cubs of the current year and fosterers swim there, that is, the mother instills practical skills of this extremely specific way of obtaining food in her offspring.

Baikal is also a fairly rich source of easily accessible protein food: roe of Baikal pigfish covering coastal stones, corpses of one-day insects called “Baikal caddis fly” who die after flying away and cover the water near the coast.

The she-bear and fosterers also teach the cubs the skill of catching fish in Lake Baikal and rivers flowing into it.

According to observations, the bear family walks in a specific order: the mother comes first, then go the cubs, and the chain is closed by fosterers.

And here comes the most interesting moment. One of the experts on bears’ life claims that a “nanny” is a female bear allowed to stay with the she-bear as a future mother. Others, on the contrary, insist that fosterers are solely male bears. The issue is controversial, many experts generally deny the existence of fosterers in the bear family.

The bear and the man in the protected areas of the Baikal region

A lot of bears live in the protected areas of the Baikal region because of the unique availability of food resources. Therefore, an encounter of a bear and a man is highly probable; humans should keep it in mind that bears are wild beasts. A meeting with a she-bear walking around with her brood is especially dangerous.

The best option is not to catch their eye. Once the she-bear feels that danger approaches, the animal will boldly rush to meet this danger, protecting her children. And then even an armed man can hardly cope with an angry beast. The female bear runs very fast: at a speed of 55 km per hour; however, she cannot rung very long distances.

Tourists themselves quite often provoke the beast, because for some reason they believe that bears living in the protected areas are almost trained, and that they can play with bear cubs like with kittens. In addition, frequent fires in the forest areas of Lake Baikal drive animals to the tourist camps. Most often this happens on the Svyatoy Nos peninsula. Tourists often do not dispose of food waste, sometimes even “feeding” poor bears, using the fact that the cubs are very curious. This “kindness” may end in a bad way.

The acquaintance of the bear family with local residents, permanent residents of the protected area, is of somewhat different nature. According to the stories told by the old-timers of the village of Davsha (a settlement in the North Baikal region of Buryatia on the territory of the Barguzinsky Nature Reserve), a she-bear with three cubs have constantly visited the place for several years. The cubs messed around, climbed the fences to get fish and other delicacies. And the she-bear got up on her hind legs, hovered over the fence, swaying, and looked after her cubs. Later a “local” male bear – “the resident of Davsha” –started to appear in the settlement. He wandered along the street at night, sometimes falling asleep by some porch, did not show aggression, walked along the coast, grazed on the glade before the village; during daytime he walked along the trails and looked into the gardens. The residents of the settlement believe that this bear was one of those three cubs who used to come here with their mother.

To sum the story up, let’s recall that the cubs “walk around” with their mother until they are 3 years old, after that the mother sends the grown-up bears to a start a completely independent life.

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