The Brown Bear in the Pyrenees
All about the brown bear in the Pyrenees

NON AUX OURS! No to the bears! You’ll no doubt see these words spray painted on roads and on buildings throughout the central Pyrenees.

It’s fair to say that the rejuvenation of the brown bear population in the Pyrenees is a controversial subject and not everybody is as delighted or excited by their presence as we are. So what’s the deal?

The history of the brown bear in the Pyrenees

Captured brown bears in Pyrenees early 20th CBrown bears (Latin name Ursus arctos) have always existed in the Pyrenees. They have however had a chequered history.

In the past they have been hunted for their skins and young cubs were captured and trained to perform for a curious public.

As the 20th century progressed, man’s actions started to affect a huge part of the bear’s territory.

The development of mines in the mountains and the creation of transport links through the mountains and valleys were the main culprits, forcing the bear to seek alternative havens. Hunting also continued apace.

By the 1940s, the Pyrenees were home to France’s last remaining bear population. By 1954 just 70 native Pyrenean brown bears were scattered across the Pyrenees.

By the 1990s, the number of brown bears in the Pyrenees had dwindled to dangerously low levels.

The reintroduction of  brown bears in the Pyrenees

Wildlife holiday brown bears in FranceA reintroduction programme supported by the French Government and with EU financial support was launched in 1996.

Three healthy brown bears from Slovenia were released in the central French Pyrenees in an attempt to regenerate the waning population of native Pyrenean brown bears.

The programme was however met with resistance, especially from farming communities who feared for their livestock that roam the high mountain pastures (known as estives) in the summer months.

A generous compensation package was put in place to compensate farmers for the loss of sheep if it could be proved they had been killed by a bear. Farmers were also educated on how to best protect their flocks using the fearsome Patou dog to good effect.

In 2004, the last of the native Pyrenean bears, a female named Canelle, was shot by a hunter. To add salt to the wound, the bears brought from Slovenia did not flourish as well as hoped.

So in 2006, a further four female brown bears and one male were brought from Slovenia and released in the Pyrenees. The population is now growing and some 150 people are now involved in the conservation of the brown bear in the Pyrenees.

The brown bear situation today

Population of the brown bear in Pyrenees 2016The central Pyrenees, which is where The Adventure Creators operate, is home to the overwhelming majority of the brown bears in the Pyrenees.

At the end of 2017, there were over 43 bears, the majority concentrated in the central Pyrenees. In the course of 2018 numbers rose to over 50 as 9 or 10 females had cubs and an additional 2 females were introduced in the western Pyrenees.

The original male brown bear that was released in the Pyrenees in 1997 is a hulking great bear called Pyros who weighs in at around 250kgs. Pyros photo in Melles

He is now 29 and the emblematic bear of the Pyrenees.

All of the brown bears born in the Pyrenees since 1997 can be traced back to him.

Therefore in order to dilute the genetic pool, a new male was introduced in 2016.

Goait is 11 years old and has successfully secured his own territory from the mighty Pyros.

The introduction of this male can only strengthen the population of the brown bear in the Pyrenees.

Why the Pyrenees are the perfect environment for the brown bear

The wild mountain environment of the Pyrenees is perfect brown bear territoryBrown bears like to roam. They have a wide range which covers 100s of square kilometers.

The central Pyrenees are sparsely populated, with vast expanses of pristine mountain hillsides that provide all of the factors that are critical for the brown bears’ survival.

They thrive in an environment that includes mixed coniferous and deciduous forest/woodland, where there are rocky areas in which they can hibernate and also where there is open grassland on which they can feed.

The brown bear is an omnivore. Around 80% of its diet is herbivorous. It loves wild raspberries, bilberries, nuts and fresh grass shoots. It will also eat small dead animals. Only rarely and if it is very hungry will it actually kill for food.

Local brown bear experts

If you have been following us on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that The Adventure Creators are passionate about the wildlife in the Pyrenees and especially about the brown bear.

Video footage brown bears in PyreneesWe are delighted to have forged close links with the organisations and individuals who are responsible for the monitoring of the brown bear population in the central Pyrenees.

On the French side, the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS for short) is responsible for monitoring and protecting the brown bear population.

They have some amazing video footage of the brown bears thanks to the motion detection cameras that they have installed at strategic points. Check out their YouTube channel for some mesmerising footage of the brown bear!

How you can discover the brown bear in the Pyrenees

Scanning for bears on a bear tracking wildlife holidayThere are two ways in which members of the public have the opportunity to discover the territory of the brown bear in the Pyrenees.

You stand the best chance of catching a glimpse of this elusive animal in a particular corner of the Spanish Pyrenees where, at the time of writing, two males, a female with 2 cubs and a lone female have been spotted this spring.

Thanks to our relationship with the only licensed bear tracking expert in the area, you can fully immerse yourself in the bear’s mountain environment over a period of 5 days in the springtime and again in the autumn.

Young bear captured on video on wildlife holidaySleeping in a tent, you’ll be out of your sleeping bag at dawn and glued to your binoculars, scanning the hillside for a glimpse of the bears as they forage for food.

You’ll work with the local experts to look for tracks in the mud and for fur left on their rubbing posts and also review the videos and photos collected by the movement detection cameras.

This is a genuine wildlife tracking experience and not some out-of-the-can wildlife safari on which a spot is guaranteed!

Over the border in the French Pyrenees, we are collaborating with the Pays de l’Ours association to offer an exceptional day experience of tracking and monitoring the brown bear in the Melles area.

Fur from bears in the PyreneesThis hands on experience combines a solid off the beaten path day hike with the collection of scientific data that is used to track the movements of the brown bear in the Pyrenees.

You’ll collect fur samples, look for footprints and bear droppings as well as check videos and photos from the strategically placed cameras up in the bears’ territory.

The experience doesn’t end there, however.

Fur that you collected may be sent off for DNA analysis and you’ll receive news by email as to which bear you had been tracking!

You’ll also receive copies of the photos taken by the devices and be the first to see videos too. This an immersive wildlife experience through which you’ll gain first hand knowledge about the brown bear in the Pyrenees.

As the brown bear population in the Pyrenees continues to grow, we hope to play our part in educating people about this evocative animal. Through immersive experiences using nothing but local expertise, you’ll become as captivated by the brown bear as we are, guaranteed!

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All about the brown bear in the Pyrenees


4th June 2017
Thank you for introducing us to the Pyrenees. It is interesting to look back at the history of these bears and how the government is helping in increasing their population. The experience sounds amazing!
4th June 2017
Thanks so much for commenting. Yes, it is a special and unique experience, for sure. We're so lucky to have such amazing creatures here in our area of the Pyrenees.
31st May 2017
Fascinating! So interesting to learn about the bears in the Pyrenees and how to see them. I would love to camp, hike and pull out my binoculars to catch a glimpse of those beautiful bears. Great information & photos. Thanks for sharing! :-) #feetdotravel
30th May 2017
It's so pleasing to hear the brown bear population is increasing. They do appear to be shy but I think I'd like someone with me if I came across Pyros and his 250kg. It is admirable work you are doing to save these guys. Kudos! :-)
30th May 2017
Thanks for your comment, Shona. We can't take any credit for any of the reintroduction work that's going on here as that's down to the specialists. But at least we can help raise an awareness and understanding of the bears' presence in our part of the Pyrenees through responsible wildlife tourism actions in conjunction with the licensed guides here :-)
30th May 2017
This sounds absolutely amazing! I love the fact that the bear populations are being restored and the actual experience of seeing or tracking the bears are a responsible choice of animal related tourism. Well done.
30th May 2017
Thanks so much for your comment, Kelly. Indeed, it's of utmost importance to us that the chance to track and possibly see the brown bears here is done in a responsible way. It would be disastrous for the bear population if their reintroduction success were to be compromised by man's increased presence in their environment.
28th May 2017
This has to be one of my favourite posts I have read recently! I am a huge animal lover and care deeply about animal conservation, so read this story is wonderful! It's fantastic to see these beautiful creatures being reintroduced successfully, I have pinned this to my Wildlife board so I can follow in your footsteps and visit them! Thanks for sharing, I'm so happy to have discovered this post! #feetdotravel
28th May 2017
Hey Angie, thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the post. The brown bear is a big part of our lives here and to have this shy animal in our area of the Pyrenees is pretty special. Do get in touch if you would like to visit and possibly see one of these elusive animals.

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