Officials: Bears Emerging Early from Hibernation in Yellowstone

   02.12.15

Officials from Yellowstone National Park have confirmed that grizzly bears are already stirring thanks to a relatively mild winter this year. Yellowstone bears typically leave their dens in the middle of March, but grizzly activity was reported in the Greater Yellowstone area just this past Monday.

“The first confirmed report of grizzly bear activity in Yellowstone occurred on February 9,” Yellowstone National Park employees wrote on the park’s Facebook page. “A grizzly bear was observed late in the afternoon, scavenging on a bison carcass in the central portion of the park.”

The early emergence of the bears could mean extra safety precautions for visitors, and the park recommends that hikers and skiers stay in groups of three or more while in Yellowstone. Making noise on the trail and packing bear spray is also a good deterrent to any possible conflicts, and visitors are reminded to properly store any food they bring into the park in bear-proof containers. After a long period of living off their body fat, the first priority for these ravenous bears is to obtain food.

“Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens,” officials stated. “They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.”

Male bears are typically the first to awaken, followed by solitary females and then females with yearlings. The last to emerge from their dens are usually mothers with young cubs, as newborns do not actually hibernate but instead nurse throughout the denning period. By the time they follow their mother out into the world for food, grizzly cubs that are born in January already weigh 10 to 20 pounds. Most of the grizzlies will leave the vicinity of their den within a week, spreading out across the park to look for elk or bison that succumbed to winter or for early spring vegetation.

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