Seven of the 17 bears at the Belitsa sanctuary are already hibernating, according to sanctuary manager Dimitar Ivanov, who hopes most, if not all, will hibernate, which is good for the animals.

Some of the shelter’s residents hibernate throughout the winter, while others alternate between sleeping and coming out of their nests during the winter season, Ivanov explained. Hibernation is more difficult for younger bears, who prefer to play outside. Older bears with age-related health problems hibernate for a shorter period of time. Rain and snow also have their consequences.

The Belitsa sanctuary team is constantly encouraging the bears to use nests that they dig themselves, because this keeps their natural instinct alive. Most bears have started digging their own dens, just like in the wild, to hibernate inside, rather than using the dens the group has built. Natural nests are used more than once and not by the same animal.

The group started making houses for bears that have lost their sight or have a problem, Ivanov told BTA. It has been found that placing this house on a slope encourages the bear living inside to start digging, eventually making a den.

To avoid disturbing the hibernating bears, the Belitsa reserve will be closed to visitors from November 18. It will reopen in the spring of 2024.