The number of bears in the Pyrenees is on the rise

The number of bears in the Pyrenees is increasing

Thanks to data collected by the Brown Bear Network of the French Office of Biodiversity, an estimate of the number of bears in the French Pyrenees has been established.

The population of brown bears (Ursus arctos) in the French Pyrenees is being closely monitored by the French Office of Biodiversity (OFB). On April 24, 2020, the organization presented the results of this follow-up for the year 2019.

At least 52 bears in the French Pyrenees

The OFB, through its Bear-Brown Network, found 1,433 indices of ursid presence in the French Pyrenees, “an increase of 21% compared to 2018 and 59% compared to 2017”. These animals were observed directly 40 times in the previous year. For the public establishment, the number of bears in the Pyrenean massif is up compared to the last two years. There are now at least 52 specimens: 23 females, 22 males, and bears whose sex has not yet been determined. In addition, “a minimum of five litters consisting of two cubs each were detected.”

The logical consequence of the growth of this population: the total area of presence of the brown bear increases. It is now in the order of 10,400 km2, “40% more than in 2018 and more than double that in 2017,” the French Office of Biodiversity reports on its website. However, only one specimen, named Goiat, is responsible for a 2,000 km2 increase in the range. Ursus arctos is present in six French departments: the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, the Hautes-Pyrénées, Haute-Garonne, Ariège, Aude and the Pyrenees-Orientales.

The associations are pleased but assure that the population is not yet viable

Bear Protection Associations, Bear Country – Adet and Ferus, welcome such an annual review. “This 50 bear milestone represents a ten-fold increase in the number of bears compared to 1995, and shows the effectiveness of the State-associations partnership when the state takes responsibility,” they said in a statement. They stress, however, that a population of 52 bears is still not a “viable population”. For this, it is necessary to consist of at least 50 specimens of reproductive age and “with good genetic diversity”. For the associations, this figure is achievable but more bear releases have yet to take place, especially females. A process that should no longer take place during Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term, the latter putting an end to it under pressure from farmers. However, the restoration of a viable population is a European obligation to which France cannot deviate. New releases will still have to be undertaken as in October 2018: two bears, Sorita and Claverina had been reintroduced in the Pyrenees-Atlantic.