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Bear Hibernates In Crawlspace

By: Kris Hazelton
A black bear has found a nice, cozy place to hibernate underneath a local business. He is tucked away in a corner of the crawlspace to sleep away the cold winter months.
The owner of the business heard sounds coming from the crawlspace one afternoon last November and he joked to his co-workers, “That sound must be coming from a bear in the crawlspace!” Little did he know, he was right.
After they realized they actually had a bear in their crawlspace the owners were a bit unnerved and called the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to get some advice on how to move the bear out. Wildlife officials responded and recommended that the business owners throw rags soaked in ammonia in the crawlspace, blast an air horn repeatedly and turn on bright lights and music in the area so the bear doesn’t find the crawlspace a desireable or relaxing place to sleep.
Owners followed all advice and then asked the Div. of Wildlife to come back and inspected the crawl space to see if their efforts had worked. After searching the crawlspace, they told the business owners that the bear had moved on and was no longer in the crawlspace.
The next week, they were still hearing noises from “down below.” The owner had hired a handyman to come and cover some holes in their foundation. Imagine his surprise when he discovered he was face to face with a bear in the crawlspace! Luckily the bear was groggy from sleeping and didn’t attempt to go after the shocked handyman!
Despite repeated attemts to evict the bear once again, the owner stated, “He just lays there and looks right back at us and doesn’t budge!”
Staff at the business were a bit nervous about the bear knowing that he’s just one floor below. There is a trap door from the crawlspace that opens into the office as well as an opening to the crawlspace from the outside where the bear originally lumbered in for a long winter’s nap. Employees were worried the bear might sometime decide to pop his head up from below and approach them in the office. They can hear him on occassion as he moves about or sometimes they say they think he might be chewing on the wood down there.
After learning about Jayne Zmiejewski aka “The Bear Lady, who is also a wildlife responder, office staff called her to see if she might offer some help. When hearing that the bear was unwilling to move out, Jayne explained to them that the bear’s body systems had started to slow down and that he was already in hibernation mode. She also advised them that black bears enter their dens in October and November and that hibernation typically lasts 3–5 months. During this time, a bear’s heart rate drops from 40–50 beats per minute to eight beats per minute. Since they are not “true hibernators,” a black bear’s body temperature does not drop significantly and they remain somewhat alert and active during their hibernation. If the winter is mild enough, they may wake up and forage for food. It is unknown at this time whether the bear in the crawlspace is male or female but females give birth in February and nurture their cubs until the snow melts. So if the bear is now pregnant, they will find out in February when they hear the cries from the cub.
After having time to get used to the idea and doing a bit of investigation about bears the owners and staff at the office learned that the bear occupies a special place in Native American culture. Tribes from different regions assign varying importance and meanings to the bear. The bear is regarded as being the master of the forest and for the Native Americans, the bear was a sacred animal that had to be protected at all times. Harm to the bear would bring harm to the human society. The Native Americans also have a theory about the hibernation habit of bears. They believe that during hibernation, bears enter the spirit world leaving behind their worldly bodies so that they may revitalize and provide healing powers.

Wildlife expert Jayne Zmijewski checks on the bruin. EP NEWS/ Kris Hazelton

The workers at the business have now “adopted” the bear and are happy he or she is there.

There was a concern that the pipes down in the crawlspace might freeze due so they put a bale of straw over the opening to keep the cold out. Over the weekend, the bear discovered the bale of straw and dragged it back into the crawlspace and is now using it as bedding. He must feel quite snug with a new straw bed!
Jayne will soon be helping or offering advise on how to install a doggie door of sorts which would allow the bear out of the opening to the crawlspace without allowing it back it after hibernation is over.
According to Jayne, the staff at the office now feel like caretakers for the bear and they are much more comfortable with the idea that he/she is there. They have taken on a special charge to care for the bear and are anxious to see what the months ahead will bring. Owners are thinking about possibly putting a webcam in the crawlspace so call can watch the progress of hibernation. Watch the EP News for updates on this bear.

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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