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Climate Change Is Causing Bears to Emerge From Hibernation Early

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Climate change is causing bears to come out of hibernation nearly a month early, raising concerns about their interactions with humans upon waking up.

As global temperatures are rising, the world’s ecosystems and wildlife are being impacted along with them.

Europe just experienced its hottest winter on record, and temperatures in December and January in the United States were also unusually high.

“To see such widespread and extreme winter warmth is an extraordinarily rare if not unprecedented event, which has the fingerprints of human-caused climate change all over it,” CBS News Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli said.

Drastic increases in temperature across the globe, which have been linked to climate change, are disrupting the natural patterns of bears.

Bears stay in hibernation to save energy and survive during the winter with little food. When they come out of hibernation, usually during the spring, they will immediately look for food. 

Emerging from hibernation early, however, means the resources they rely on for food might not yet be available.

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As a result, bears will seek out food from human sources, eating pet food or bird seeds, and rummaging through garages and sheds to try to gain access to food, increasing the likelihood of interactions with humans. 

These changes in hibernation are being seen across Europe, as well. 

At the Moscow Zoo, three bears woke up a month early, and in Finland, bears at the Helsinki Zoo did not hibernate until late December, nearly a month later than expected. 

Waking up early is not the problem, according to the Helsinki Zoo’s mammal curator Hanna-Maija Lahtinen. The real issue is making sure the bears are fed. 

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While bears at the zoo will be monitored and fed by zookeepers, bears living in the wild will face challenges when it comes to securing food, increasing the risk of coming into contact with humans. 

“Bears waking up weeks earlier than they should is yet another canary in the coal mine, a strong biological indicator of an extremely warm winter in various parts of the world,” Berardelli said, “And long-term, [this is] a sign of how humans are becoming a force of nature, unintentionally manipulating nature's natural cycles.”