22 February 2024

After four months of deep slumber, our four European Brown bears have awoken, just in time for half term.  

Our Zookeeper Sarah McGregor said first on the agenda for the four girls, was a swim and a frolic through the woods.  

“There’s no better way to wake up and shake off the winter cobwebs than with a splash in the pond and then a spot of sunbathing. Three-year-old Naya was in her element and is making the most of the rare sunny spells,” she said.  

Sarah explained that in the wild most bears snooze during winter when food is scarce. “Every year we set up a specialised nutritional plan for our brown bears to make sure they get enough calories, and to ensure they’re nice and fat for the winter months when they crawl into their cozy dens for a long, deep sleep.”

During torpor, the bears breathing, heartbeat and circulation slows right down, but as in the wild the bears remain ready to defend their territory if needed.  

Brown bear on all fours, standing on grass with trees in the background, in sunlight
© Whipsnade Zoo
Bear sits on pile of logs, with trees in the background
© Whipsnade Zoo
European Brown Bears at Whipsnade Zoo awaken from torpor

Our brown bears

“Every so often the girls would briefly wake up and poke their head out, or maybe even wander outside to explore their paddock, before going back for another sleep. But now we can officially say the four girls are up and at ‘em.”  

Minnie, Mana and Naya arrived at the Zoo in 2023 from Sweden.  

Sarah added: “As a young group they’re very active and enjoy swimming, running, climbing trees, as well as playing with each other.

“Our bears are great ambassadors for their species. Sadly, some European brown bears are at risk of extinction in the wild due to human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat.”

A recent report led by ZSL researchers and commissioned by Rewilding Europe, found better legal protection, enlarging protected area, rewilding and dedicated species recovery work were some of the most effective ways to protect brown bears and aid the species recovery throughout Europe.  

Sarah added: “Through ZSL we're working around the world to restore ecosystems and protect important species. We’re so lucky to have Naya, Cinderella, Mana and Minnie at the conservation zoo to educate visitors on the threats facing bears in the wild and what we can all do to help.” 

 Visit the Zoo this February to get closer to nature and help solve wildlife crime at Vets in Action. Running until February 25, children can step into the role of a vet at the Zoo.        

Learn more about Vets in Action

Animals at the Zoo

  • Asian elephant at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
    Elephas maximus

    Asian elephant

    Asian elephants are more closely related to the extinct woolly mammoth than to the African elephant.

  • A Eurasian lynx at Whipsnade Zoo
    Lynx lynx

    Eurasian lynx

    The Eurasian lynx is the largest species of lynx, and once lived wild in the UK.

  • Lionesses Waka and Winta at Whipsnade Zoo
    Panthera leo

    African lion

    Lions claws can be retracted in sheaths to prevent them getting blunted when walking across the savannah, which they can do almost noiselessly on soft pads.

  • Chimps eating at Whipsnade Zoo
    Pan troglodytes


    Chimps are more closely related to humans than gorillas, and you can watch our chimps regularly use tools at the Zoo.

  • Reticulated giraffe Khari at Whipsnade Zoo
    Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata

    Reticulated giraffe

    Giraffes have the same number of neck bones as people, their heart beats twice as fast as human's and they stand at 2 metres tall as new a new born giraffe.

  • Lola the hippo with her mouth open in her outdoor pool at Whipsnade Zoo
    Hippopotamus amphibius


    Hippos make their own 'sunscreen', which they secrete through their skin to keep it moist and protect them from the sun's rays.