Even for a Canadian who has spent more time in the mountains than not, bear watching in Finland is a whole new experience, especially since I got to see a wolverine too.
Bear-watching in Finland is a highlight of my travels that I won’t forget in a hurry. As a Canadian that loves being in the mountains every chance I get, I love seeing wild animals in their own habitat.
I have been bear watching before, but I had never seen a wolverine, up until now. I’m told that it’s a good thing since they’re known for their fierceness. And in the battle of unarmed you versus the wolverine, the wolverine would win!
But still, how many wolverine attacks on people have you heard of? Personally? None.
While cycling 1350km of the 1700km long Iron Curtain Trail in Finland, I discovered wolverine and bear-watching safaris in Lentiira, Finland. It would be my first real stop after 6 1/2 days of cycling. And I couldn’t think of a better stop than the chance to see a wolverine in the wild. They’re elusive creatures with only 130 to 200 remaining in Finland!
Although I’ve seen plenty of bears in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, I had never seen a bear in Europe. An unforgettable experience is it is, being that the brown bear is Finland’s national animal, which made it extra special. I’d already been eluded by the endangered Saimaa seal in Savonlinna, and hoped my luck would change with wolverines and brown bears.
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Logeais, Taiga SpiritRecommended Reading: Wildlife Books That Animal Lovers Will Enjoy
I choose the wolverine and bear overnight safari with Taiga Spirit in Lentiira. I was eager to start my bear-watching experience in Finland.
Sabrina, the owner of the bear sanctuary, starts off the tour with a delicious lunch and a few Finnish specialties! Then it’s a short drive to where the hides are. Another confession, never having actually been in a hide, I was more than slightly worried that I had a cramped cold night to look forward to.
I breathed an audible sigh of relief when I saw that the hides were log cabins with large viewing windows. Not only that, there were bunk beds with sleeping beds, a portable heater, and even a separate room with a toilet! It was simple, but far surpassed my expectations of all of us being scrunched in a tent from the sale section of the local outdoor store!
There were 5 guests, and 3 cabins, and as I was traveling alone, I got to share with Sabrina, which was ideal! That way I would really be getting the insider scoop and learn more about the pattern of animal activity. The deal was that whenever someone saw a wolverine or brown bear, they would text the other two cabins to make sure that everyone saw it. It was an exciting way to start the bear and wolverine watch.
Everyone would stay awake during the afternoon, and then during the night, you take shifts keeping a lookout for wildlife. I was a terrible teammate, exhausted from cycling, I slept through most of the night and only crawled out of my sleeping bed when Sabrina whispered the wolverine is back.
Travel Tip: If you do an overnight wildlife safari, make sure you are well rested to get the most from your bear watching experience in Finland!
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Safely in our cabins, Sabrina started laying out the treats that would be used to lure in the wolverines and bears and increase our chances of actually spotting one! We didn’t wait long. Within minutes, while Sabrina was still putting out the food, a wolverine appeared. This was the fun part of the wolverine and bear watching.
A guest in one of the other cabins frantically knocked on the window to warn Sabrina. She calmly waved back to indicate that she knew a wolverine was there and continued on. The wolverine found a nice piece of fish, then lopped back into the woods to bury it, and reappeared several times over the next few hours!
Another wolverine also made several appearances and had a slightly different gait, but still, one that seemed out of place for a ferocious animal, instead resembling more of a cuddly creature in a child’s storybook than a terrifying predator!
Observing them, my preconceived notions about wolverines started to disappear. I would even go as far as to call them cute! I wouldn’t be saying that if I were a reindeer herder in Finland though. After my wolverine safari, I met several reindeer farmers. Their dislike for wolverines is legendary. And I wanted to find out why. Was it just because they were killing their reindeer? It turns out that that’s only part of the story.
Wolverines are able to move much more quickly than reindeer in deep snow. A wolverine will float on the snow with their padded feet, while reindeer sink, making them easy prey. As you can imagine, a reindeer is much larger than a wolverine, so it’s not able to eat the entire animal in one setting, and preferring live meat, the wolverine will take a chunk out of the reindeer, then come back for another chunk the next day.
This continues for several days until the reindeer dies of fatal injuries or bleeds to death. Either way, it’s a brutal death and does help shed light on why not everyone is pro-wolverine and resents not being able to hunt them, despite their low numbers. I loved observing the 2 wolverines that I saw and in truthfulness, I am grateful that I didn’t see their vicious side. If you ever get the chance to observe a wolverine in the wild, take it! It will make you see this incredible animal in a very different light! This was one of the best highlights of my bear and wolverine watching experience.
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Observing Brown Bears – Finland’s National Animal
Unlike the Wolverines, who made an almost immediate appearance, the bears kept us waiting….and waiting…and waiting. Perhaps they were aware of their esteemed position in Finland, is the national animal and all, and like true royalty, let the peasants (i.e. us) wait! Finally, at around 6:00 am, a male made an appearance, followed shortly by a female.
You wouldn’t normally see two adult bears together, but being June it was mating season. But rather than giving us a peep show, they showed far more interest in the food than they did in each other, especially the male. He virtually ignored the female, and was far more interested in eating and hanging out! At this point I was amazed at the luck I was having on my first time bear watching in Finland.
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I’m really hoping the deed had already occurred because if this was his idea of courtship….well I’d say he blew it! He had a lot of room for improvement! Although I have seen quite a few bears in the wild, I loved watching these two. Bears are among my favourite animals on the planet. And any chance I get to get a glimpse of one in the wild is a privilege!
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Know Before You Go a Wolverine and Bear Watching in Finland
- Lentiira is one of the best places to observe wolverines and bears in Finland. Its closeness to the Russian border and remoteness make it an ideal location.
- The wolverine hide at Taiga Spirit in Lentiira (43km north of Kuhmo) runs from March to October each year. You can choose a 4-hour option or an overnight option. If you’re going in March, the overnight option would be quite chilly. Prices range from €80 to €130 per person and include a local guide, snacks, and sleeping bags.
- The bear hides at Taiga Spirit runs from April to October. The overnight option is the only choice since the bears often make an early morning appearance.
- Bed and breakfast accommodation is also available on-site.
- Food allergies can be accommodated. But you should notify Sabrina in advance.
- Contact Taiga Spirit for further information.
I would highly recommend bear watching in Finland to anyone planning a trip. If you are as lucky as I am, you’ll also have the opportunity to see a Wolverine.
Disclosure: Many thanks to Visit Finland and Taiga Spirit for making my wolverine and bear watching possible. As always, all opinions are my own.