Biodiversity. Territory, number of individuals … What we know about bears in the Pyrenees


A bear was killed Saturday afternoon by a hunter in Seix, Ariège, in the Pyrenees. According to the comments reported by the hunters, the septuagenarian first fell on the cubs before being attacked by their mother. The bear allegedly bit him on the legs before the man shot and killed him. An event that revives the debate between pro and anti-bear on the plantigrade population in the Pyrenees.

At least 64 bears in the Pyrenees

While the bear population of the Pyrenees was threatened with extinction, France started in the 1990s a program to reintroduce plantigrades from Slovenia. The first bear, Ziva, was released in 1996. Since then, ten other ursids have been reintroduced.

Thanks to these reintroductions, the brown bear population has grown significantly in 25 years. According to data from the Ours Brun network of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB), in 2020 there were at least 64 specimens in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, including three in the Western Pyrenees, 59 in the central Pyrenees and two males evolving between the two regions. It is about a “minimum figure because it is always difficult to have precise data. On the other hand, we know that it is a figure increasing between 10 and 15% each year”, specifies to The Midday Dispatch Julien Steinmetz, Head of the Large Predators Unit of the Occitanie Regional Directorate at the OFB.

The year 2020 was particularly important for the population of plantigrades since at least 16 cubs were born in the massif. In 2021, about fifteen females were likely to have young. The OFB was therefore expecting around nine litters this year.

These estimates are made thanks to observations in the field of the Ours Brun network of the OFB, but also video recordings obtained using cameras installed in the mountain. Last July, the French Biodiversity Office unveiled a series of videos of bears in the Pyrenees, showing in particular a bear breastfeeding her young:

Three bears killed by humans in 2020

If the bear population is increasing in the Pyrenees, it is not yet large enough to ensure the survival of the species in the mountain range, according to experts. Like the two other large predators still living in France – the wolf and the lynx – brown bears are thus protected because of their vulnerability.

In 2020, however, three bears were illegally killed. Cachou, a male, died of human poisoning on the Spanish side. The perpetrators were arrested. Sarousse, a female, was killed by a Spanish hunter. Finally, the body of a male Ursid, probably also killed by a hunter, was discovered in Ariège riddled with bullets.

As for the bear killed on Saturday, the Pays de l’Ours-Adet association believes it could be Caramelles, born in 1997. Her mother Melba was killed when she was only eight months old. hunters in a fight.

Very rare attacks

The sad consequences of the face-to-face meeting that took place on Saturday between the bear and the hunter from Ariège are rare in the Pyrenees. If several encounters between humans and ursids take place every year in the massif, this physical attack with biting is the first for about fifty years.

For good reason: when confronted with a human, brown bears tend to flee. Including the females accompanied by their cubs, who “in almost all the cases of chance encounters in recent years have all acted in the same way, with a charge of intimidation intended to impress the intruder and make him leave”, assures the Parisian Alain Reynes, director of the Pays de l’Ours-Adet association. According to him, the only possible explanation for the attack on Saturday is that “the bear felt her cubs threatened”.

Last August, a shepherd had claimed to have been chased by a bear but the man had not been injured.

A debate around cohabitation

Like the wolf in certain regions of the Alps, the bear in the Pyrenees is a subject of tension between the protectors of biodiversity on the one hand and the hunters and herders on the other, who deplore attacks by cattle. In the columns of World, Aspap, an association of breeders opposed to cohabitation with plantigrades, believes that the attack of last Saturday “once again proves that the bear has no place in our mountains”.

For their part, bear protection associations continue to advocate for cohabitation with ursids. “We ask that light be shed on the circumstances of this event (the bear killed on Saturday, Editor’s note). We must draw the consequences”, according to Sabine Matraire, president of the Pays de l’Ours association -Adet. This “event in no way calls into question the presence of the bear”: “It is important to work on better information and better training for hunters,” says Sabine Matraire.

Programs to promote reintroduction and cohabitation

The French government has pledged to replace any bear killed by human hands with reintroductions, while breeders strongly oppose it. In an attempt to find compromises by preserving bears while helping breeders to protect their herds from urchin attacks, a 2018-2028 Bear plan has been launched.

The French State is also committed to the European program of conservation and cohabitation “Life Ours Pyr”, endowed with a budget of eight billion dollars but whose application has been postponed to 2022. According to this program, the State France is legally bound by Europe to continue the reintroduction of this protected species in the massif. The Prefect of the Occitanie region assures him that the contours of the implementation of “Life Ours Pyr” will be debated at the beginning of December.


Source: Le Progrès : info et actu nationale et régionale – Rhône, Loire, Ain, Haute-Loire et Jura | Le Progrès by www.leprogres.fr.

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