Reintroduction of bears in the Pyrenees

France is to release five Slovenian bears to North of Val d’Aran and Monte Perdido. The original plan was to release 15 animals, and doubling at a stroke the entire Pyrenean population, but the fears of farmers and livestock owners, particularly on the Spanish side, has led to a more gradual approach.

The opposition in the Spanish Pyrenees is in stark contrast to the bear loving Asturans and Cantabrians, where the animal is proudly seen as a sign of regional identity. Bear experts from the Cordillera Cantabrica note that the same arguments now raging across the villages of the Pyrenees were held 20 years ago in the Coridllera Cantabrica, during the campaign to save the bear there. The bears will be released between April and June in part to replace the three bears release between 1996 and 1997 -Melba, Claude and Cannelle- which were killed by hunters. The places chosen sensibly are municipalities which have been favourably to the reintroduction: Arbas, Bagnèresde-Luchon and Burgalays (Alt Garona), and Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Alts Pirineos), to the north of Val d´Aran and Monte Perdido and Ansó in Spain, respectively.

The bears will be followed by a French team made up of a biologist, a vet and three assistants. The capture and transfer of each bear costs around 10,000 euros an animal and is financed by the EU - Slovenia is not charging for the bears. This is only the start of the reintroduction programme as at the area will need at least 100 bears to be anything like viable. There are currently 10-12 animals in the Eastern Pyrenees and another 4-5 in the western part of the chain. Opposition means this will be done gradually. The French government notes that not a single person has been killed by a bear in the last 150 years in the Pyrenees.