Ever since ibex were reintroduced into the Pyrenees in 2014 I have been hoping to spot one on the horizon. Last year I contacted the Jordi Estèbe from the Parc naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégioses and went with him to search for one. Despite knowing where the ibex was holed up, and despite both GPS and radio technology we failed to find him.
But yesterday on holiday in Andalusia (Spain) walking above Lentegí (Almuñécar) there they were, standing on a promontory thirty metres away looking at me: a female and two kids. The female disappeared immediately but the kids stayed, until their mother ibex called them with a birdlike squawk. They stationed themselves a little further down the slope just long enough for me to grab another photo. Wonderful surprise.
It is not clear what is happening to Catalonia’s rewilding project. Despite decreasing damage to livestock, the farmers’ union is becoming increasingly agitated.
The Unió de pagesos is demanding “urgent and effective measures to reduce the damage caused to mountain flocks by bears and wild animals. We need to find equilibrium between livestock farming and biodiversity.”
Last Thursday (5 May 2016), the union organised a demonstration in Vielha (Val d’Aran) complaining about the current situation. According to official figures, which the union does not contest, there were 290 attacks on flocks between 1996 and 2011. But since 2005 increased vigilance and keeping the sheep together in flocks has reduced losses caused by bears from 25 to 10 per year. 94% of the attacks concern sheep.
It is the same with vultures. There were 50 vulture colonies in 1999 growing to 158 in 2009. Between 2011 and 2014, livestock owners claimed compensation for 233 attacks but only 12 were considered to be clearly the work of the birds. In 2014 there were only 24 claims; 6 were compensated.
Yet despite the trends, the union is demanding more preventive measures and a moratorium on reintroductions until the current problems have been solved.
Brown bear – ursus arctos, ós bru (Catalan) oso pardo (Spanish)
Catalonia has just announced [TV interview in Catalan] [report in French] that it will release a male bear from Slovenia in the Pyrenees this May. The aim is to widen the bear population’s gene pool: at present most of the thirty bears have the dominant male Pyros as their father or grandfather (sometimes both). The project has been on the cards for many years but the PirosLife rewilding project is being cautious.
Before the 1970s only a handful of walkers had crossed the Pyrenees from E–W but hundreds of thousands had done it from N–S or S–N, and not just at the ends near the coast. Hannibal and Pompey; pilgrims on the Way of St James; Cathars; pedlars; shepherds; Napoleon’s armies; smugglers; Ramond, Russell, and other explorers; golondrinas; priests with Spanish religious statues; political refugees; the entire Spanish government with its paintings and gold; Jews and pilots; maquis; economic migrants; terrorists… All crossed the Pyrenees.
[Note: some of these routes are not particularly recommended for walkers but are included for their historical interest. Each route includes practical information for those who wish to cross from the Senda Pirenaica (GR11) to the Pyrenean Way (GR10).]
Many of these crossings are now celebrated by official treks, mostly created in the last fifteen years, with interpretive panels and museums by way of explanation. These are known as Grand recorridos transfronterizos in Spanish and Sentiers de randonnée transfrontaliers in French.The Aragon government has just launched a project [Spanish text] to develop them.
The Senda is a long walk. Like its elder sister, the Pyrenean Way (GR10) in France, it runs from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean, taking in the entire length of the mountains. With over 950km to hike and around 42000m of climbing it is a serious trek. Kilian Jornet may well have brushed it off in eight days but ordinary humans will take at least six weeks.
Yet there’s more to the GR11 than the one and a half million footprints and the encounters with other nomads. It is also a window on a way of life. The last vestiges of the Old Mountains are still visible in recently abandoned hamlets and overgrown hedgerows. And the New Mountains are moving in, bringing with them infrastructures and ideas conceived on the plains.
Forget bears and wild boar; the walker’s greatest enemy in the Pyrenees is only 2mm across. I know three people who have had serious problems after a tick bit. One was temporarily paralysed from his toes to his neck and given a 50% chance of survival; another was diagnosed with depression for many years until tested for Lyme disease; and a third was too ill to work and had to retire ten years early. The long-term symptoms are very varied and diagnosis difficult. Continue reading Ticks and Lyme disease in the Pyrenees→