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Sweden: Brown bear wakes up from hibernation and kills 38 reindeer calves

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According to a new study, a "very predatory" brown bear emerged from hibernation and killed 38 reindeer calves in a single month, followed by 18 young moose the next month.

The unnamed 13-year-old female was one of 15 brown bears tracked by researchers in northern Sweden to learn more about how the bears use their environment. They discovered that in the spring, bears move their habitat to hunt reindeer and moose calves. The specific areas occupied by bears varied based on how many calves they hunted, with some bears, such as the unnamed female, killing more than others.

Why are some bears more predatory than others? "It must be a combination of numerous elements," study co-author Antonio Uzal Fernandez, a senior lecturer in wildlife conservation at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, told Live Science in an email. "For example, some individuals are more aggressive than others."

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, brown bears (Ursus arctos) are the most extensively distributed bears on the planet, living in 45 nations across North America, Europe, and Asia. The new report is part of a long-term study of brown bears' life in Norway and Sweden.

Researchers tracked bears using GPS collars between 2010 and 2012 and recorded the bears' kills in the new study. According to a statement provided by Nottingham Trent University, as the reindeer calving season begins, brown bears in Sweden go to the high-elevation, difficult terrain preferred by reindeer with young, and subsequently to habitats utilized by calving moose, such as adjacent deciduous woods. This enables them to hunt weak calves.

The researchers mapped the areas used by different bears and compared individual kill rates. According to the study, bears were labelled as "high predatory" if they killed more than the average kill rate for all bears — 0.4 kills per day — and "low predatory" if they killed at a lower rate. The researchers discovered some differences in where high- and low-predatory bears moved. High-predatory bears, for example, preferred forested habitats with more reindeer than the more open areas preferred by low-predatory bears.

According to the statement, eight of the 15 bears were classified as very predatory, consistently killing more than 20 reindeer calves and 5 moose calves per calving cycle. According to the study, bears are not as effective at hunting larger adult prey, so they focus on hunting calves until July when the calving period ends and they rely on berries for the remainder of the year until re-entering hibernation.

"Our study demonstrates the variability in individual bears' predatory behaviour and how this helps to explain individual diversity in habitat choices," Fernandez added. "Differences between people are also essential from a management standpoint; for example, simply removing predators without targeting specific individuals may not always reduce conflict." This is because some bears are more aggressive and daring than others.


In Sweden, reindeer are semidomesticated and herded by the indigenous Sámi people. People shoot bears every year in retaliation to reindeer attacks. According to the study, the new data may help researchers construct forecasts for possible bear-reindeer hotspots to help prevent this conflict. According to the researchers, the hotspots could alert livestock owners about where bears are most likely to attack during calving season and help them take precautionary measures to avoid losses, such as greater attention in those regions.