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.
The bear will be released in or near the Parc Natural de l’Alt Pirineu close to the watershed which separates Pallars Sobirà and the Vall d’Aran.
PirosLife will also be involved in “new projects to prevent bear attacks on herds and beehives, with the objective of achieving zero risk; amongst other things, they will help with combining herds together, contracts for shepherds, electric fence enclosures, and the purchase of dogs” [source]. There is nothing new in this list and it seems unlikely that new arrival will be welcomed by everybody. In 2014 sixteen horses were killed in the Vall d’Aran, apparently as a result of a bear attack, although the circumstances are not clear. But overall Spain suffers far fewer attacks than France: only 26 in 2014 compared with 178 in France.
This will be the first reintroduction since the French government’s 2006 initiative which saw the arrival of five bears, also from Slovenia. The protests at the time and afterwards succeeded in completely blocking any further French initiative despite a European commitment to creating a viable population. The demonstrations continued for some time but in the last 2–3 years the principal organisations have been less visible.
Curiously, in 2009 the Spanish senate voted unanimously to ask France stop its reintroductions, one Aragon senator claiming that the “reintroduced bears are clearly aggressive and carnivore” whilst the locals were less so. His Catalan colleague Joseph Maria Batlle Farran claimed “If we have this problem [attacks on sheep] in Spain it isn’t because Spain is to blame, but the French who have introduced this kind of bear on their side of the Pyrenees… The bears don’t know about frontiers.”
Historically speaking, the protests in Spain have been much more limited than in France. So far.