If you watched The Jungle Book as a kid, the lovable bear Baloo will likely have a special place in your heart. However, bears aren’t all singing and dancing. They’re actually quite solitary creatures, sleeping the winter months away in complete isolation from the world. For a bear, hibernation is a skill rather than an instinct, and this little cub learnt it just in the nick of time.
At five years of age, Luna, a beautiful brown bear, had her first chance to put her skills to use and hibernate for winter. A lifetime of misfortune and cruelty meant that she was unable to hibernate until very recently. In a stroke of luck, though, she’d managed to learn this important skill before being taken into captivity, which is rare for bears who are taken from the wild at a young age.
Safe and happy at a rescue center in Germany run by Four Paws, Luna’s traumatic youth seems worlds away. It’s probable that the vulnerable cub was taken into captivity at a very young age when her mom was shot by poachers. Thankfully, though, her mom had passed on some pearls of wisdom before her untimely death.
Jeta Lepaja, a spokesperson for Four Paws, had a theory about what had happened to Luna after she was captured. “Usually poachers take them when they are tiny cubs,” Lepaja told The Dodo in November 2018. “Afterwards, [they] sell them to people who own a business, like in this case an amusement park.”
It might be hard to hear, but Luna’s treatment is not that uncommon. More often than not, the animals seen in zoos weren’t born wherever they’re on display. Instead, it’s common practice to rip them away from their natural habitats. This can interfere with their social ties and hinder their development.
Being taken away from her natural habitat was bad enough, but the conditions in her new home were even worse. At Albania’s Aulona amusement park, Luna was confined to a tiny cage, subjected to all kinds of weather conditions and was constantly disturbed by noisy crowds and ear-splitting rides.
It was little surprise when Luna was later described by Four Paws as having been one of the saddest bears in the whole of Europe. It’s hard to ignore the cruel irony that such a sad creature was forced to entertain at an amusement park. However, after three long years, there was finally light at the end of the tunnel for Luna.
Four Paws caught wind of Luna’s mistreatment and came to the amusement park, along with the police and a vet. They tranquilized Luna, which allowed them to give her a full examination. Then, the team whisked the bear off in an emergency vehicle to a zoo in Albania’s capital, Tirana.
Four Paws is a non-profit organization that puts the treatment of animals above all else. On its website, Four Paws describes itself as a “strong, global and independent voice for animals under direct human influence.” It has set up rescue centers and sanctuaries all over the world, in fact, and raises awareness of cases of cruelty. Luna was in safe hands, then.
It hadn’t been easy for the Four Paws team to get Luna out of the amusement park. Firstly, it turned out that the Albanian authorities had been alerted to the case. And then when the Four Paws crew wanted to take Luna away from the park altogether, her owner kicked up a fuss. Fortunately, though, he eventually released her.
After a short time at the zoo in Tirana, Luna was transferred to a more permanent home. She was taken to Bear Sanctuary Muritz in Germany, in fact, the newest center run by Four Paws. There were already a number of bears in the sanctuary, and Luna seemingly couldn’t have been happier to join the clan.
Not only does Luna now have ample space to roam around, but her health and wellbeing are also a priority for the people who look after her. She enjoys a quiet environment that’s full of vegetation, as well as 12 other bears to interact with. And after three years of misery, Luna seemed determined to make the most of her freedom.
Her new environment certainly seems to have improved her overall happiness, particularly the presence of a makeshift swimming pool. During the hot months of the German summer, you often find Lola up to her neck in water, splashing around to cool herself down. She now appears to be a bear who lives her life to the full.
When the summer months drew to a close and a cool breeze started to descend over her new home, Luna knew exactly what to do. It was time to put those skills that she’d learnt all those years ago to use. Yes, you guessed right. It was now Luna’s first opportunity to build a den to hibernate in.
Luna got stuck into her new project, as well, both literally and figuratively. “She is the first bear digging her den there,” Lepaja told The Dodo. “She looks in such a hurry!” After so many years in captivity without a chance to follow her instincts, it’s no wonder that Luna was so excited. But she went above and beyond the norm.
In fact, Luna perhaps over-compensated for lost time and ended up building two dens! The footage of Luna digging suggests that nothing could distract her from the task in hand. With her nose firmly against the ground, she uses her front paws to scrape away the dirt and does so with incredible speed and efficiency. In just 30 seconds, she’s well on her way to having the den of her dreams.
Four Paws was so taken by Luna’s passion for her work that it posted the video of her digging on its Facebook page. And the footage drew plenty of attention. One user commented, “She’s working hard to make the perfect den. Hope it’ll be deep enough to keep her warm!” Another viewer wrote, “Luna is now even digging a second one ;) she is for sure a perfectionist!”
And Luna seemed pretty happy with her handiwork after she got into her den to test its sleepability. It appeared to fit the bill, and Luna subsequently spent a pleasant winter tucked up in her homemade home.
And as Luna seemed to enjoy making her den so much last time around, the Four Paws staff thought that she might start the process even earlier this year. “Luna hibernated last winter for the first time from beginning of January until end of March,” Lepaja said. “The chances are that this year she will hibernate earlier.” You have to work for perfection, after all.
All things being well, Luna will have another restful hibernation. And with so many months spent underground, it’s important to make it as pleasurable as possible. This philosophy is one that the Four Paws team share – in their caption for Luna’s video, they wrote, “Hibernation should be spent comfortably, so perfection is key.” Indeed, comfort is a bear necessity.