5 fun facts about grizzly bear hibernation at Saskatoon zoo

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WATCH ABOVE: Imagine skipping winter entirely and we're not talking about taking a hot holiday, we're talking grizzly bear hibernation at the Saskatoon zoo – Nov 16, 2018

Old man winter seems to have finally settled in and on days like today who hasn’t thought of staying inside, curling up and even sleeping until spring?

Two grizzly bears named Mistaya and Koda at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo are in the final stages of preparing to do just that.

READ MORE: Saskatoon’s newest zoo resident has a name

Among the 340 animals at the zoo, there are only two sets of sleeping beauties that will hibernate this winter. The black-tailed prairie dogs who have already hit the hay and the 13-year-old bears are well on their way.

We uncovered the ‘bear’ truth about hibernation and here are some fun facts:

1. I’ll take it ice cold please!

As the bears enter the final stage of hibernation, visitors may still see a little movement happening. According to zoo manager Tim Sinclair-Smith, when temperatures consistently drop to -2 and below all day long that’s when the bears will start to sleep.

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2. Getting the hang of hibernation

For the first 10 years of their life, Mistaya and Koda were on display year round which by today’s standards is pretty rare. Sinclair-Smith said three years ago that  changed upon his arrival because it simply wasn’t appropriate and it was extremely important that they had the opportunity to hibernate.

“There’s not a known population of grizzly bears that doesn’t hibernate, it is a natural part of their life so we want to make sure they do what they naturally do.”

In 2016, they started figuring out the issues behind why the bears had never hibernated and just let them do their thing.

“They didn’t have to be taught, they naturally know what to do,” Sinclair-Smith said.

That’s not to say though that Koda isn’t a little bit of the annoying brother who tries to keep Mistaya up at times when all he wants to do is sleep.

READ MORE: Saskatoon Zoo grizzly bears part of research project

3. Preparing for a long nap…

For weeks, staff have been preparing the bears for hibernation. They work with the Foothills Research Institute Grizzly Bear Program in relation to research around the bears and what they’re doing.

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The data being collected includes monitoring their activity levels, taking temperature readings and humidity readings and then they analyze all of that information.

The zoo also partners with a wildlife nutritionist who manages their diet and has been mimicking what bears would find in the wild.

“Their last feed happened last Thursday so they’ve had that last indicator along with temperature to go into hibernation,” Sinclair-Smith said.

4. Forget any type of Weight Watchers for this pair!

Currently, Mistaya weighs 355 kilograms and Koda is tipping the scales at 350 kilograms. They’re considered pretty big but they could be bigger and they’ll need the weight over winter since they could lose up to 150 kilograms during hibernation.

“We’ve actually trained the bears to hop on scales using positive reinforcement training,”Sinclair Smith explained.

“So, we’ll get a weight on them before they go into hibernation and when they come out we’ll get another weight on them.”

5. Can’t wait until spring to see the two?

If having to wait a couple months to see Mistaya and Koda is too unbearable, there’s a live camera feed from inside their den. That way you don’t miss out and zoo officials can closely monitor their behaviour, activity levels and breathing patterns.

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As for when they’ll emerge, it’s pretty hard to predict.

“It depends how long is winter?” Sinclair-Smith laughed.

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