Bears in the woods in Catalonia (and France)

Bear cubs photographed on an automatic camera near the Port de Tavascan, July 2017
Bear cubs photographed on an automatic camera near the Port de Tavascan, July 2017

The French government has recently promised to reinforce of the brown bear population in the western Pyrenees. Predictably this has stirred up French shepherds following an increase in attacks last year. Demonstrations are being planned. But on the other side of the border, in Catalonia, things are much quieter. Shepherds seem to be more willing to accept the new constraints.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the Catalans have been the first to announce the 2017 bear statistics, in a press release dated 29 March. With seven births but two bears missing, presumed dead, there are now 43 bears distributed over 4,900km2 in Spain and France. Their footprint has expanded from 3,800km2 in 2015.

Twenty-five bears were identified in Catalonia in 2017; a further 18 were only seen in France. However, many of the 25 ‘Catalans’ must have also crossed the border – the French authorities have not yet released their own statistics.

Moonboots and Patoune have been missing for two years so they are probably dead, though the Pyros, the grand old man, was seen on an automatic camera in April 2017.

Presence of bears in the Pyrenees, 2017
Presence of bears in the Pyrenees, 2017

 

Preventive measures

In Catalonia, 46 attacks were attributed to bears last summer. In 29 cases animals were killed; the other 17 attacks concerned beehives. All but three of the incidents were in the Val d’Aran (north of the Pyrenean watershed). 177 sheep, 1 lamb, 3 goats, two mares, and one colt were killed.

In an effort to reduce these figures, the PirosLife programme has been promoting preventative measures such as recruiting shepherds, the use of guard dogs, and bringing the flocks back to a sheepfold at night. In 2017, 39,299 animals were protected by 28 farmers’ cooperatives, helped by 13 shepherds. In the Val d’Aran, six shepherds were employed by six cooperative to look after 6450 animals. Three of the collectives were organized by PirosLife; the others were private initiatives.

Tracking the bears

Over the year, the bears’ presence was recorded by automatic cameras, fur traps and footprints: a total of 1389 clues which have been used to identify them.

Catalonia Aragon Navarra France Total
Footprints

10

1

118

129

Fur

120

0

0

321

441

Photos and videos

221

10

0

171

301

Attacks

46

5

0

173

254

Droppings

49

0

70

119

Observations

12

0

0

20

32

Other

0

0

0

14

14

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