Back in 1996, a conservation plan to reintroduce the near-extinct brown bears in the Pyrenees was launched with the addition of three bears from Slovenia. The brown bear population was already sparse, and unfortunately, the last native bear from the area was killed in 2004. After this sad event, four female bears were brought in, also from Slovenia, to continue boosting the populations of this keystone species.
Now, the EU-backed Franco-Spanish LoupO transborder project that monitors bears in France and Spain is happy to report that the brown bear reintroduction plan is showing signs of success, as the 2021 count identified 70 bears—a significant increase from the 52 bears counted in 2018 and the highest population recorded for a century.
Since the project launched in 1996, there have been 114 newborns—and all of them born before 2016 were fathered by one Slovenian male bear named Pyros. As reported by The Guardian, the study counted 34 females, 32 males, and four other bears of undetermined gender.
The repopulation proposal was opposed by farmers who feared that their livestock would be at risk. That said, brown bears are largely vegetarian and will rarely kill for food. Out of all the bears, there have only been complaints about one in particular, a young male named Goiat that was accused of killing a ram, four goats, and a sheep on separate occasions in the Vall d’Aran.
To temper these concerns (which were also echoed in Spain when the government banned the hunting of wolves in the north-western regions of Castilla y León), farmers can claim compensation for any animal killed.