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Brown Bear Mothers Look to Humans for Cub Protection

Life isn’t easy for brown bear cubs. Before they become massive adult bears capable of taking on almost anything that comes their way, they have to survive a childhood filled with danger. One of their biggest threats comes from their own kind, as most cub deaths are at the claws of adult males. Fortunately, mother bears are known for their protective nature, and in Sweden, many of them are taking a unique approach to keeping their young safe.

According to Popular Science, the area of Sweden studied had a mortality rate of 35 percent for brown bear cubs, and 92 percent of the deaths were from adult males. The vast majority of these deaths occur during mating season when adult males want to reproduce. Since mother bears are unable to reproduce while raising a litter, the adult males kill the cubs, at which point those adult females go back into reproduction mode.

National Geographic reports that a team of Norwegian researchers tracked several female bears using GPS. They found that many of these female bears started taking their litters closer to humans than normal. They weren’t doing it for food, as the food quality was actually much poorer in the areas the females chose. The reason they were venturing closer to humans was protection, following the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Adult male brown bears avoid humans so they aren’t killed by hunters. However, hunters aren’t supposed to kill females or their cubs. Those female bears took a calculated risk, getting closer to humans to avoid the adult males. They tend to stay in areas with thick bushes for concealment, but it’s still risky to get that close to humans.

The researchers tracked 30 litters, with 19 surviving and 11 being killed by adult males. The statistics show that staying near humans is the safer approach, as the median distance from humans of the surviving litters was about a quarter-mile closer than the median distance of the litters that died.

Mother bears are willing to do anything for their cubs to survive. For a more lighthearted look at bears, watch this video to see adorable orphaned bear cubs.

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