While you might enjoy stealing a couple of hours of shut eye during a busy work day, bears take their sleep schedule to the next level. In the midst of icy winters, they drop into a state of hibernation, staying bundled up in their dens for months on end to save energy.
However, there isn’t really an instruction manual for bears looking to get their seasonal snooze on, and hibernation isn’t as easy as simply settling down and going to sleep. In fact, one bear with a tragic history actually had an unprecedented experience the first time she felt nature’s call — and experts could barely believe what they saw!
If you’ve only seen bears in Disney movies or at the zoo, they seem like adorable, happy creatures. Life in nature, however, can be quite a bit tougher. Just ask Luna.
Luna, a brown bear, probably lost her parents to poachers as a cub. While no one is exactly sure what her childhood was like, she quickly found herself in a terrible situation.
Rather than living in nature, Lily grew up in Albania’s Aulona Amusement Park. While it’s assumed she was illegally brought to the park by hunters, things only got worse in captivity.
While most bears live in the forest with ample space, food, and social interaction, Luna had none of that. She resided in a cramped cage, surrounded by tourists and unfamiliar noises. It was a terrible place.
For three long years, Luna called the theme park home. But, one day, several new visitors came to see her. While she had learned to ignore the children surrounding her cage, these people were different.
Public Radio International
Four Paws, an international animal welfare organization, learned of Luna’s plight. They agreed that an amusement park was no place for a bear and weren’t going to let the situation stand any longer.
Four Paws initially reached out to the park and asked if they would free Luna. Understandably, the ownership wasn’t prepared to let their animal attraction simply leave. There was another way to free the bear, though.
With help from the local authorities, Four Paws went to the amusement park to see Luna. They were joined by a veterinary inspector, who confirmed that the cage was no place for a bear.
They tranquilized Luna, fit her with a tracking microchip, and carried her into a waiting van. It might have been momentarily unpleasant, but she was on her way to a new life!
Air Cargo News
While Luna had no idea where she was going, her rescuers had a plan.The bear was being transported over 2,000 kilometers away, to the northern edge of continental Europe. But was waiting for her?
Luna found herself in Germany, between the cities of Berlin and Hamburg. It was an alien environment to her, but Four Paws knew exactly what they were doing. Before long, the big moment arrived.
They had taken her to Bear Sanctuary Muritz to live in comfort. After three long years trapped in a cramped, amusement park cage, Luna was returning to nature. Cautiously, she sniffed the air.
Once she realized where she was, Luna immediately settled into her new home. Instinct took over, and, before long, she was running through the grass as if she had never left.
Beverley & Pack/ Flickr
One day, however, Luna started feeling strange. While she had spent most of her life in captivity, she still had inescapable bear urges. There was something that she needed to do.
The German winter was approaching, so Luna needed to hibernate. For the first time in her adult life, she had to find her own den and settle down for a long winter’s nap.
Since this was such an important moment, Luna decided that she couldn’t sleep in just any cave. She was going to build her own den! She found the right spot and started digging…
Luna’s massive paws made quick work of the dirt and, before long, she had dug out a perfect den. But the bear wasn’t satisfied. There was still more work to be done!
Luna actually started digging a second den. Whether she was making up for lost time or simply trying to create her dream bedroom, the result was the same. She now had two choices for her hibernation location!
Her efforts paid off, and Luna was able to spend her first winter outside of a cage cozily tucked into her own den. When spring came, she was ready to do it all again!
“Luna hibernated last winter for the first time from beginning of January until end of March,” Jeta Lepaja of Four Paws said. “The chances are that this year she will hibernate earlier.”
While digging two dens might be strange, Luna’s living a happy life in the sanctuary. The scientists are getting a grip on her habits. Observations of another bear in the Arctic Circle, on the other hand, left their colleagues scratching their collective heads.
On the coast of the Arctic Circle lies Victoria Island, where the temperature is often at excruciating levels below zero degrees Fahrenheit. And below those layers of ice, the Arctic is hiding some secrets.
David Kuptana is one of 2,000 people who live on Victoria Island, the eighth largest island on Earth. Few people reside there considering the island’s grand size (approximately the size of Idaho).
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
David grew up in the small coastal district of Ulukhaktok, home to only a few hundred people. While Ulukhaktok is known for its artistic musk ox-horn carvings, it’s not exactly known for its farmers’ markets and grocery stores.
Up north many Inuits live off of the land, rather than paying lofty prices for few-and-far-between groceries. This is where the majestic polar bears come into play.
As the temperature heats up, polar bears spend more time on land, which gives the Inuit people the opportunity to hunt them. They resourcefully use their meat for food and their fur for pants and boots. These white, fluffy bears have long been a sacred part of their culture.
As extinction started to creep up closer and closer on the polar bears, laws concerning hunting changed; however, hunting is still legal for Alaskan natives, and for Canada as a whole. The Ulukhaktok community is granted about a dozen polar bear hunting tags annually.
But things got weird for David Kuptana and his wife while on a seemingly regular and legal hunting expedition. They drove snowmobiles across the vast ice to a cozy island cabin as per usual but wound up encountering something unusual.
When the two arrived at the cabin, they were shocked to find that someone had broken in, most likely looking for food. After some head-scratching, David came to the conclusion that this someone was, in fact, a bear. The two spouses left the gutted cabin and drove off to find a new one.
They were appalled to find this cabin was also plundered by a bear. Among the damage, they found a mattress dragged out onto the ice and a broken window. David was perplexed, as he had never seen a polar bear behave like this.
The Kuptanas traveled to a total of six cabins and found them all wrecked. But at the sixth cabin, they got a big surprise: they caught the bear in the act! While it wreaked havoc, they observed the creature, having noticed that something about it was a bit… off.
The meddlesome beast had blonde fur with sable paws and eyes. It looked nothing like a polar bear. The spooked bear attempted an escape, but David was on the move, having chased it down on his snowmobile. David thought it was a grizzly bear, but his guess was only partially accurate.
Because David was frightened of the bear’s erratic behavior, he killed it. He brought the bear, who still mystified him, to a local government officer who was just as puzzled.
But the officer had a hunch as to what this bear-thing was. He figured it was some sort of hybrid, but to find out for sure, the officer sent the bear’s DNA to a lab to be tested. They anxiously waited on the DNA results, but this was no episode of Maury.
The Japan Times
The tests showed that years prior to David’s discovery, 20 of these animals were born in captivity. But because these particular hybrid animals and their parents had been kept apart from the wild, where did David’s blonde bear originate from?
Well, in 2006, a hunter found the first documented hybrid bear on Banks Island, Northern Territories, Canada, which is a bit northwest of where David found his hybrid in 2010. While those bears were never found to be particularly exciting or noteworthy to scientists, things changed in 2016.
In 2016, a hunter discovered the third wild hybrid bear of its kind in Arviat, Canada. By this point, scientists had hypothesized that pesky climate change was the culprit behind bear interbreeding, as warming climates caused the Arctic ice to melt, which ain’t good for the polar bears.
They figured that otherwise, polar bears wouldn’t dream of mating with a foreign species. The mix of polar and grizzly characteristics would most likely create a hybrid bear that would be better equipped for warmer temperatures. The hybrid bear, appropriately named a pizzly bear, possessed the best of both worlds! Right?
Yeah, more like the worst of both worlds. Unfortunately, the mix of grizzly and polar bear traits didn’t help the pizzly bear (also known as the grolar bear, or nanulak) adapt to any environment. They don’t excel on ice or land, making the climate change theory a flop.
When the DNA test results were in, it was revealed that the Ulukhaktok pizzly was a unique blend. Its mother was exactly 50% grizzly and 50% polar, while its father was a pure grizzly. This confirmed that the pizzly bears are in fact fertile mammalians.
But in 2017, a group of scientists disclosed that, based on DNA and genetic testing, these wild pizzly bears all come from one family tree, trailing back to a single female polar bear, known as Bear 10960. She had mated with two different grizzly bears, one of which she mated with twice. So what was her real motive behind interbreeding?
The Contemplative Mammoth
While it could have been that there were no male polar bears nearby, or that a male grizzly picked up her scent and proceeded to follow her, but, believe it or not, it’s possible that Bear 10960 simply had a thang for grizzlies, considering she mated with grizzlies three times. Cue the Barry White mixtape.
Chronicles of the Nerds
Buckle your seat belts, folks, because things get crazier. Scientists concluded that Bear 10960’s daughter (who is a pizzly) ended up mating with her mother’s two former grizzly bear partners! So how on earth does this relate back to David Kuptana’s pizzly finding?
A Travel Blog
Well, that wild pizzly found in Ulukhaktok is the grandchild of the infamous Bear 10960. To be clear, David Kuptana’s pizzly bear discovery was produced from a long line of incest. We know, this is quite the tale.
We still don’t know a ton about the reason behind bear interbreeding, especially seeing that science confirmed polar bears and grizzlies have been mating for thousands of years! In conclusion, nature is weird, and sometimes answers just aren’t set in stone. Heck, these guys aren’t even the weirdest wild hybrids around…
1. Zorse: This equestrian beauty is what you get when you mix a zebra and a horse. They were first bred in the nineteenth century by Charles Darwin, but nowadays, they’re extremely rare because they’re either sterile or infertile.
2. Wholphin: This rare hybrid is a mix between a killer whale and a bottlenose dolphin. They breed naturally and exist in the wild, but you don’t have to go for a swim to find them — there’s one living at Sea Life Park in Hawaii.
emorlie / Instagram
3. Beefalo: These grazing animals are the offspring of American buffaloes and domestic cattle. The first accidental crossing of these species occurred about 300 years ago, but scientists deliberately engineered the specimen to help with the beef production industry in 1880.
Mark Spearman / Flickr
4. Liger: Anyone who’s seen the film Napoleon Dynamite knows this was Napoleon’s favorite animal, but it’s also one of the world’s most popular hybrids, too. A male lion and female tiger make up this unique beauty.
5. Grolar bear: If you’ve ever wondered what the offspring of a grizzly bear and a polar bear looks like, check out grolar bears. Most of the mating happens in the wild, but it’s rare — both species tend to avoid each other.
6. Zonkey: This cute little four-legged fella is the cross between a zebra and a donkey. While he may be all donkey from the torso up, those striped legs scream zebra all the way.
7. Dzo: This animal is a cross between a domestic cow and a yak. They originated in Mongolia and Tibet. They tend to be stronger and larger than cows and yaks, and they also produce larger quantities of milk and meat.
Petr Meissner / Flickr
8. Savannah cat: This unique breed of cat is often compared to dogs in terms of its loyalty and intelligence, and they can even be trained like dogs as well. The breed mainly exists in the wild, and it’s a mix of a domestic house cat and African wild cat.
Michele Keeler / Instagram
9. Cama: If you mix together a male camel and female llama, you have yourself a cama. They basically look like smaller, fluffier camels. Scientists artificially reproduced them to create an animal that generated a larger amount of wool than a llama.
10. Leopon: The gorgeous and almost majestic coat on this animal is the result of a lioness mating with a male leopard. The very first leopon was produced in India in 1910, and by 2018, there were only 100 of them in the world.
11. Hinny: These mixtures of male horses and female donkeys are slightly smaller than horses, and they have thicker fur coats. They also cannot reproduce on their own, making them very difficult to obtain.
12. Wolfdog: You can probably guess what two animals make up this species! They were first bred together for people who wanted to own exotic-looking animals. Because they’re genetic mixtures of both dogs and wolves, it’s difficult to predict physical and behavioral characteristics.
13. Tigon: This hybrid is a cross between a female lion and a male tiger. Because they’re sterile, they can only exist in captivity; however, in 1943, a female tigon actually mated with a male lion at the Munich Hellabrunn Zoo. The cubs were raised into adulthood.
quatzakotelwoingenau / Imgur
14. Geep: This adorable animal is the rare crossbreed between a sheep and a goat. Although sheep and goats are very similar, when they breed with each other, their offspring are more often than not stillborn.
jeremy_binns / Instagram
15. Jaglion: This mystical-eyed animal is the cross between a male jaguar and female lion. Funny enough, it was actually unintentionally bred when a jaguar and lion lived together in the same zoo enclosure.
Bear Creek Sanctuary
16. Zebroid: This animal looks a lot like a horse, but that coat has zebra written all over it. Zebroid is the term given to a zebra mixed with any other type of equestrian animal — and this one looks fantastical!
17. Zubron: This mix was originally thought to be an optimal replacement for cattle because they were stronger and more resistant to the kinds of diseases that would wipe out entire herds. However, the only remaining zubrons exist in a small herd in Poland’s Bialowieski National Park.
18. Narluga: Although this animal is extremely rare, there has been an increase in sightings in the North Atlantic Ocean of this narwhal and beluga whale mix. The long nose of the narwhal is missing, and the head shape is more like a beluga whale.
19. Coywolf: Coyotes and wolves are very similar, and they’re able to produce offspring without complications. Coywolves boast many characteristics of both species, and, in terms of sheer size, they’re between a coyote and wolf.
Anne Marie Fraser / Flickr
20. Mulard: This mixture of a mallard duck and muscovy duck can’t create offspring. Farms commercially produce this domestic duck — a hybrid of different genera — for foie gras and lean meat.