March Napness: Contest underway to find the sleepiest sanctuary bear

You’ve heard of March Madness and Fat Bear Week, but are you ready for March Napness? As hibernating season comes to an end, the search is on for the sleepiest sanctuary bear. 

March Napness is an annual competition put on by Four Paws USA, a Boston-based nonprofit that operates six bear sanctuaries across the world in Switzerland, Austria, Kosovo, Germany, Bulgaria and Ukraine. 

Unlike Fat Bear Week, when the National Park Service watches bears fattening up before they hibernate, Four Paws picks 23 of their bears to watch for March Napness as they end their hibernation periods. The last one to wake up gets the coveted title of 2024’s sleepiest bear. Four Paws will post updates on social media each week as it keeps track of bears that wake up and are eliminated from competition. 


FILE - A brown bear wakes up from hibernation in Finland (Photo credit should read KAISA SIREN/AFP via Getty Images)

"Sadly, all of the bears have experienced trauma and poor keeping in one way or another before their rescue," Four Paws says on its Instagram page. "It’s common for bears kept in poor conditions to stop exhibiting natural behaviors, such as hibernation. So when they come into our care and are given the opportunity to live a more natural, happier life, many of them experience hibernation for the very first time and we think that’s cause for celebration!" 

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Four Paws says it works to rescue and protect animals from, among other things: 

  • Bear-baiting
  • Dancing bear performances
  • Being used to attract tourists to restaurants
  • Cub-petting operations

This year, the bear rescue is celebrating a special first-timer in the contest: Mark, a roughly 26-year-old bear rescued from Albania, where he worked as the country’s last restaurant bear, according to Four Paws USA. 

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"He was used to attract customers, living in a tiny rusty cage where he only felt the cold concrete floor," the nonprofit says on its website. "He was deprived of all the natural behaviour of a bear and never had the opportunity to forage, hibernate, or even smell other bears."

Since his rescue in December 2022, it’s taken a lot of time for Mark to adjust to life outside a cage. He entered his den in late 2023 for his first full hibernation, and this year is his first foray into the March Napness competition. 

You can follow March Napness updates on Four Paws USA social media pages.