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A brown bear reintroduction program in the Pyrenees is showing signs of success, with 70 individuals counted in 2021, the highest number in a century.

The population has risen from 52 in 2018, according to figures produced by the cross-border group that monitors bears in France and Spain, with half of the creatures living in the Catalan Pyrenean regions of Vall d’Aran, Pallars Sobirà and Alta Ribagorca. Overall, the population is dispersed over an area of ​​6,500 km2.

The study identified 34 females, 32 males and four others whose gender was not determined, with 15 puppies born in the last year. There have been 114 newborns since the program began in 1996.

The brown bear was nearly extinct in the Pyrenees when three bears from Slovenia were introduced 26 years ago. The last native specimen was shot in 2004 and two years later four females were introduced, also from Slovenia.

Until 2016, all cubs born since 1997 could be traced back to Pyros, a Slovenian male bear. Another male, nicknamed Goiat (the boy), introduced from Slovenia in 2016, was accused last year of killing livestock in the area. A ram, four goats and a sheep were killed in separate attacks last fall in Val d’Aran.

Goiat had already gained notoriety across the border in France where farmers were demanding his eviction. He is now known to be in Catalonia where he fathered at least one cub last year.

The repopulation program was opposed by farmers from the start, even though the brown bears’ diet is largely vegetarian and they rarely kill for food.

There was a similar outcry last year when the Spanish government banned the hunting of wolves in the northwestern regions of Castilla y León and Galicia, where they are most populated. Farmers in the area say wolves kill hundreds of their livestock each year, although they can claim compensation for any animals killed.

The Franco-Spanish project LoupO, supported by the EU, was created in 2020 to coordinate the monitoring of brown bear and wolf populations in the Pyrenees.

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