Polar bear cubs venture out of their den for the first time

These playful polar bear cubs pose for the perfect family paw-trait after venturing out of their den for the very first time, before taking a well earned snooze curled up with their mum. 

The baby bears were captured in thick snow as they took their first steps into the inside world, accompanied by their protective mother. 

They were seen stomping around in -40 degree surroundings before curling up for a well-earned snooze in their freezing habitat. 

The sweet family photos were captured by award-winning British wildlife photographer Brian Matthews, 41, in Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada earlier this week. 

He said: "It was amazing to see. The cubs were only 12 weeks old, just out of the den - they were about the size of a West Highland Terrier. 

"The cubs were wary of the world, but when they weren't sleeping or eating they loved to play and fight - much to the annoyance of their mother. 

"She would often try to pin them down under her massive legs to stop them, but they'd wriggle out.

"Eventually they'd snuggle down with her, exhausted from having so much fun."

Brian, from Hartlepool, Co. Durham, had been in Canada for almost three weeks when he caught sight of the polar bear and her cubs. 

They had been in their den for almost four months before making their way into the outside world. 

He said: "The cubs would jump on their mothers back to get a free ride - they have to sprint to keep up with their mother even when she walks slowly - but she would usually shake them off.

"They were still very interested in the world, often stopping to look at trees and try to chew on them, or digging little holes. 

"But they watched their mother do everything. When their mother moved they stuck to her like glue, often underneath her and between her legs.

"This protects them from any predators but also the cold wind - the cubs aren't as insulated as she is, as adult polar bear fur can be 20cm thick."

Despite the risks polar bears can pose, Brian wasn't worried about being in such close proximity to them. 

He added: "On the day that I saw this family, they knew I was there. They sometimes would look directly at me, and smell the air. They weren't bothered. At no point did I feel scared.

"The biggest risk to the cubs is the cold, exhaustion, when they get to the sea ice other bears and if they stumble into a wolf pack on the way to the ice."