Estonia is home to a population of approximately 700 brown bears and offers tourists the unique opportunity to spot them on bear-watching tours, through specialist tour operators like Natourest. More than half of these majestic and shy creatures live in a taiga forest called Alutaguse in the north-east region, making Estonia the country with the highest brown bear population density in Europe.
From the end of April to mid-July and mid-August to the end of October are the best times to spot the Estonian brown bear in its natural habitat. In spring-summer bears awake from winter hibernation, females give birth and visitors have the chance to spot mothers with up to four newborn cubs, something very rare for any other type of bears.
This is during the famous ‘White Nights’ of Estonia, when it is easier to spot these mammals in the wild even at night, thanks to the continuing natural daylight.
Autumn in Estonia is an abundant time of the year, when wild berries become ripe and bears have plenty to feed upon in preparation for winter hibernation. They wander less and become more sedentary, making it easier to spot them in the wild.
To celebrate the bear-watching season, Visit Estonia has released a ‘Top 5 Tips’ list for bear-watchers, curated by Natourest guide and bear expert Peep Rooks:
1. Keep noise to a minimum. Bears are very shy animals and are afraid of human encounters. The louder the group is, the less the chance a bear will come close
2. Look for signs. Bears often rub, bite or scrape trees as a way of marking their territory and leave carcasses after feeding off them. If you see any of these signs, a bear must be not too far away
3. Watch for tracks. The width of a bear’s step varies widely. On hard terrain the bear usually walks with narrow steps, on soft and sinking terrain – such as deep snow – the bear walks with its legs clearly spread and places its fore and hind legs in the same tracks
4. Be patient and wait, the moment will come. Being shy animals, the best way to spot a bear is by waiting patiently from a purposely-built watching hide. They won’t see you but you will see them
5. Always be ready. Have your camera turned on, with the correct settings and your lens cap off at all times, you never know when a bear will show up