The brown bear population in the Pyrenees has grown by three or four cubs this year. The Pyrenees remains the last habitat of brown bears in France.
This is good news for those who are encouraging efforts to maintain a viable bear population in this mountainous region. Experts on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees told French counterparts they had observed bear cub prints – and then taken a photo of a female bear, “Caramelles”, with two young.
Alain Reynes of Pays de l’Ours-Adet, an organisation which campaigns for the reintroduction of bears said: “Caramelles was born in 1997 and it’s not the first time she’s had a litter. Prints were also found of a little cub alongside those of another but we lack precise data, we don’t know if there were one or two cubs.”
At the end of 2011 best estimates put the number of brown bears in the Pyrenees at about 21 so the latest births put the number at around 24 or 25. However precise facts about numbers will have to wait.
Supporters of an increase in the number of bears and the return to a viable bear population, are hoping that a different male bear is the father this time. The father of all the young in recent years has been an ageing male called Pyros. This is not good news for the genetic diversity of the bears. To have another male bear fathering cubs would be healthy for the long term health of the population.
“Even with these births the bears remain a species in critical danger of extinction,” Mr Reynes said, “We have high hopes for the government biodiversity conference next month to find out what the government is planning to do for the bears.”
Supporters say the government has a duty to help the bear population under a European “habitats” directive, and that the conference will be the ideal moment to address the problem. A previous official plan to help the bears expired 3 years ago.
The last government broke promises to introduce a new bear lin 2011 following protests from farmers who say they are dangerous to their livestock and reduce their income.
There have been several succesful reintroductions of bears from Slovenia in the past. Three were introduced in 1996-7 and five in 2006 to boost the native population. The last bear of original Pyrenees stock was shot by a hunter in 2004.