Brown bears make a comeback in the mountains of Spain

The endangered brown bear, which once roamed the forests of Europe, is showing signs of recovery in one of its remaining strongholds, the Cantabrian mountains of Spain.

Small colonies of brown bears are increasing in the craggy northern cordillera of Asturias and Cantabria. After being menaced by illegal hunters and the encroaching infrastructure of tourism, numbers of fertile females have doubled in the past decade and traces of bear activity have tripled in the last two years.

A colony of 100 bears is thought to inhabit the west of the region, with another smaller colony of about 30 to the east. The reclusive animals are still on the endangered list and their long-term survival remains under threat because the number of animals remains small despite reproduction becoming consolidated in recent years.

"We would like to establish a corridor between the separate colonies to increase the bears' genetic diversity and reproductive velocity, and thereby their chances of survival," said Guillermo Palomero, head of the Santander-based Brown Bear Foundation (Fundacion Oso Pardo). "That is the only sure way of protecting them from becoming extinct."

A joint study by the foundation and Spain's environment ministry based on 16 years of observation of the bears in their natural habitat strongly recommends trying to establish a connection between the colonies, which are 30 miles apart, to safeguard the local population. While brown bear numbers have been boosted in the Pyrenees by importing animals from Slovenia, this is not an option "because Cantabria's brown bears are a pure species unique in Europe," Mr Palomero said.

The revival is partly due to more effective control of illegal hunters, or furtivos, who now face two years in jail and a fine of up to €300,000 (£230,000) for the "ecological crime" of killing a bear.

"Furtivos still exist. There may be fewer huntsmen with guns, but more traps and poison are laid for wolves and wild boars. They still do a lot of damage," said Mr Palomero. "Collaboration between the authorities and voluntary organisations has been crucial in consolidating bear populations during 2007. We mustn't drop our guard or cry victory too soon.

"The turning point was when we realised the importance of groups of females with their young cubs. While the males roam across country, the mother and her cubs stay within a defined area. We must protect them in their habitat, because they are the guarantee of the future."

Ursine history was made in the winter of 2006 when the foundation revealed that Cantabria's brown bears had stopped hibernating. The region's winters had become warmer in recent years, enabling the bears to forage for enough food all year round.

Bears are well known for their propensity to slumber through the winter to the point of biological shutdown. But their behaviour went through a revolutionary change when female brown bears with young cubs found enough nuts, acorns, chestnuts and berries on Spain's bleak northern mountainsides to make the effort of staying awake and hunting for food "energetically worthwhile".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions