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
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Business Project Manager

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor