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Once endangered, brown bears bounce back in the Pyrenees

Zac Crellin
April 2, 2024

A successful reintroduction program has seen the population of brown bears bounce back from verge of extinction 30 years ago. The large mammals are integral to preserving the ecosystem of the Pyrenees.

A brown bear in the Pyrenees
More than three quarters of brown bears born in the Pyrenees since 1996 are the offspring of a single maleImage: Arterra/alimdi/imagebroker/IMAGO

The population of brown bears in the Pyrenees mountains has continued to grow, French authorities announced on Tuesday.

Brown bears had nearly vanished from Pyrenees until a reintroduction program brought in three bears from a healthy population in Slovenia. Since then, the population has grown steadily.

In 2022 there were at least 76 bears recorded in the region. That number has grown to 83 for 2023, the French Biodiversity Agency said.

"With a minimum of 83 individuals detected in 2023, the size of the brown bear population is gradually continuing to increase in the Pyrenees," it said.

Conservation efforts continue

The statistics were collected by the Brown Bear Network, which includes the French Biodiversity Agency as well as other organizations in neighboring Spain and Andorra.

Photographs of bear sightings as well as hair and feces samples were used to estimate the number of bears.

Wild bears in northern Spain

The Brown Bear Network welcomed the increase in the population, but expressed concern about "growing inbreeding" and called on the French government to "bring in new blood."

More than 85% of brown bears born in the mountain range since 1996 are the offspring of a single male, Pyros.

Activists see the bears as integral to preserving the fragile ecosystem of the Pyrenees, which is threatened by human activity and climate change.

Material from AFP contributed to this article.

Edited by: Louis Oelofse