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COQUITLAM, BRITISH COLUMBIA— Less than a mile away from bustling suburban traffic and well-manicured houses, a member of my extended family encountered a juvenile black bear while jogging through the early morning forest. Visiting from Singapore for his brother’s wedding, Ian Lim is well acquainted with wild animal sightings. When walking through the nature preserves of Southeast Asia, it is not uncommon to find cheeky monkeys chattering in the trees. A bear, however, is a bit larger than a monkey. Appearing through a crack in the trees, the bear trundled clumsily towards a surprised Ian, who had stopped to record the sound of the rushing river. Rather than lose his cool at the sight, Ian remained still, capturing 2:36 of candid footage that shows the curious cub taking in the sight and scent of this human intruder (watch the video all the way to the end to see a bear bop Ian on his kneecap).

Spotting a bear when hiking is not as uncommon as one might believe. Take it from this city girl who once froze at the sight of a brown bear on a crowded trail in the Angeles National Forest. None of the five people who crossed this particular bear’s path were able to maintain even a fraction of the composure that Mr. Lim demonstrated with his Canadian bear. In fact, that experience saw at least two of us running (quite possibly for our lives) to the safety of the neighborhoods located at the base of the mountain.

Mr. Lim’s up-close encounter is one that few will experience in their lifetime. Rarely do bears approach humans, preferring instead to maintain distance. While most will keep to themselves, a mother bear will stop at nothing—recall the infamous mauling of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant—to protect her cubs. Native to North America, black bears (Ursus americanus) like the one featured in the video above, are widely spread throughout the continent and live within the forested regions of Canada, the US, and Mexico.

Packing on the pounds

Depending on the local weather and food availability, most black bears hibernate during the winter months. While hibernating, bears survive solely on their stored body fat. So as soon as the weather begins to cool, the feeding frenzy must begin. During this time bears can consume as many as 20,000 calories and put on as much as three pounds of weight per day!! Though mating season occurs in the summer, fertilized eggs might not implant for months, allowing female bears to conserve their energy until hibernation. If Mama bear doesn’t accumulate enough fat by the time winter rolls around, the egg will naturally get aborted.  In warmer regions, like Los Angeles and Mexico, bears may not hibernate at all or do so for a very brief time.  Scientists are still unraveling some of the mysteries surrounding hibernation and have studied the bear’s ability to reduced their metabolic state in hopes of putting astronauts into “hibernation” for long journeys throughout space.

Here a Bear. There a Bear. (Almost) Everywhere a Bear!

Today bears live on every continent except for Antarctica, Africa, and Australia. As it turns out, Australia’s most beloved “bear” is not a bear at all. Though often called the koala bear, these cuddly tree-loving marsupials are more closely related to a possum (another marsupial) than an actual bear.

In Alex Havasi’s native Hungary, animal enthusiasts can visit bears that have been rescued from abusive owners and relocated to the serene Hungarian countryside. Just an hour outside of Budapest’s city center, the small town of Veresegyház is home to Medveotthon (Hungarian for “bear home”), an animal sanctuary that brings guests face-to-face with one of the continent’s largest mammals, the Eurasian Brown Bear. The grounds at Medveotthon include a forest, a meadow, a large pond, and many dens which house the bears, llamas, goats, pigs, sheep, anteaters, wolves, raccoons, lynx, turtle, and reindeer that live there. Recently, both Alex Havasi and Marilyn Fordney visited Medveotthon with their family and were able to get close enough to feed the bears—dipping wooden spoons into jars of honey and sticking them through the chain-link fence that surrounds the perimeter of the sanctuary’s large enclosure. According to Marilyn, the bears came up to the fence and licked the honey right off of the spoons, bringing delight to both children and bears!

Bears at Medveotthon. Photo by Alex Havasi. 2018

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