a closely watched animal

Discreetly watched by experts to ensure its survival, the bear is increasingly present in the Pyrenees. Whether with photo traps or hair traps, the specialists of this protected species are doubling their ingenuity to spot the different individuals that appear in the region.

With AFP

In the Pyrenees, 70 brown bears roam freely, under the discreet surveillance of experts who, surveying steep forests, track the clues confirming the presence of the protected plantigrade, after having almost disappeared from these mountains between France and Spain. “You can clearly see the marks of his claws”, rejoices Pierre-Luigi Lemaitre, coordinator of the Pyrenean bear monitoring network, showing a tree trunk where one of them has marked its territory, at an altitude of more than 1,200 m. The bark has been coated with a tar made from beech wood “to invite the bear to rub it and leave hairs that we can analyze”, explains the agent of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB). In order not to alter the genetic fingerprints, he puts on gloves, takes out an envelope and pliers which he sterilizes in the flame of a lighter. Then, he carefully takes the collection of the “hair trap”, consisting of pieces of barbed wire nailed to the trunk. A few meters away, he will also examine a “camera trap” installed not far from the tree, in order to automatically capture images of the animals it attracts. The results are interesting: a bear passage was filmed. Other clues, excrement, will be spotted thanks to a dog, whose contribution since 2015 has eliminated five times more than before.

Identifier of each individual

All these elements, likely to be added to those transmitted by the 450 observers of the Ours brun network, half of whom are volunteers, allow one of the “most accurate in the world”, underlines Julien Steinmetz, bear management coordinator at the OFB. Since the genetic profiles of most individuals are known, it is possible to monitor their movements and some of their behaviors that may be of interest to researchers.

Bears present over a vast territory

Experts exchange this information with their Spanish counterparts, ours are conducted over several thousand square kilometers, in the French Pyrenean departments, the Spanish regions of Catalonia, Aragon and Navarre, as well as the principality of Andorra. During their four-hour outing that day in the steep beech, oak and softwood forests of the commune of Melles, Haute-Garonne, OFB officers also examine the vegetation on which the bear feeds. . “It eats the beechnuts in the fall, when it stores up before hibernation”said Julien Steinmetz, one of these fruits in his hand.

A respectful observation of the animal

If the goal is not to see the animal up close, the two men often take out their binoculars to try to observe it from afar. “We don’t want the bear to detect us. It’s a more respectful and interesting way to see wildlife. You can see bears feeding or moving around” normally, without human intervention, adds Pierre-Luigi Lemaitre. This approach coincides with the instinct of this imposing mammal, which can measure up to 2.10 m and weigh 250 kg, but which “fears man and will do anything to avoid him”.

Recognize signs of presence

The numerous reports of bears were immediately received with caution by the OFB. “You have to sort out the real things and the imagination. For example, people in a tent who hear growling and think it’s a bear, when it’s a boar or a fox”he said.

A growing population!

Once present everywhere in France, the brown bear has seen its population decrease over the centuries, due to persecution and the destruction of its habitat by human activity, to the point that it almost disappeared. In 1995, there were only five individuals left in the Pyrenees. France then initiated a program to introduce bears from Slovenia. Eleven have since been introduced. With a record number of litters in 2020, the population has decreased further: 70 were detected last year (+9%).

A complicated cohabitation with the animal

Defended by the State and associations for the protection of biodiversity, this presence is however not to everyone’s taste. Breeders, hunters and local elected officials protest regularly, arguing damage to the herds. In 2021, according to the OFB, the bear killed or injured 570 animals, mainly sheep, less than the previous year (636).

The editorial staff advises you: Become a volunteer to defend the bears

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