Once Nearly Extinct, Brown Bears Make Comeback in Spain

The Cantabrian brown bear population — once almost eliminated — is on the rebound, writes journalist Chris Fitch in the UK science magazine “Geographical”.

The feature, Bear in Mind, The return of Spain’s brown bear population, follows Fitch as he explores the nuances of human/bear interactions in Northern Spain from the 14th century to the present day.

a Cantabrian brown bear

A Cantabrian brown bear among cliffs in northern Spain. Photo: Shutterstock


Spain’s brown bears once lived as far south as Andalucía, on the Mediterranean coast, Fitch wrote. But increased hunting from the 1500s through 1973 — when Spain banned bear hunting nationally — reduced the population dramatically, leaving a small pocket of bears in the Cantabrian Mountains in the Asturias region.

A map of spain highlighting the Asturias region

Asturias, Spain. Map: Google Earth.


Even that population took another hit in the mid-90s, its population dropping as low as 50 individuals. That’s when Fundación Oso Pardo (the Brown Bear Foundation) began targeting Spain’s culture of illegal hunting. The organization removed traps and waged a social campaign to prevent poachers from installing new ones.

Now the Cantabrian brown bear population sits at around 400, roughly double what it was when Outside Magazine wrote a piece on the animals in 2016.  According to Geographical, the population increases by about 30 individuals every year.

a peak in the Cantabrian Mountains

A rugged peak in the Cantabrian Mountains, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock


Fitch goes on to explain that the Brown Bear Foundation has shifted its attention. Instead of just anti-poaching activities, they also focus on public education and promoting human/bear cohabitation. Asturian beekeepers, in particular, are having run-ins with bears. The Brown Bear Foundation is tackling the issue with fence donations, tutorials, masterclasses, and more.

Population diversity challenges

Another challenge is connecting the subpopulations of bears to increase genetic diversity. Bear advocates responded by planting native cherry trees on farmland between the two subpopulations, luring the bears to new potential mates via tasty fruit.

The returning population provides an economic boom to the Asturias region, where bear-watching is an increasingly popular tourist activity. It seems that locals are approaching the issue sensibly, promoting bear watching as just one activity tourists can enjoy.

“We want you to see the bears, but we really want you to enjoy the nature in which the bears live, to get in touch with the people who are close to the bear, and get to know the local culture,” Tatiana Gonzalez, a marketing tourism coordinator in Asturias, told Fitch.

The entire article is worth a read. Check it out here.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).