Brown bear confirmed in Portugal, 176 years since ‘last one died’

A young adult male brown bear (‘Ursus arctos’) has been sighted in Portugal 176 years since the last known bear of this species died.

The jury’s out however on whether this is a ‘red letter day’ in terms of conservation.

Experts explain that being sighted in Portugal and staying on national territory are two very different things.

The bear will have crossed the border from Spain – where established populations exist in Asturias and Cantabria – and he is almost certainly looking for ‘territory, peace, a companion and food’.

Paulo Caetano, co-author of the book “Brown Bear in Portugal – the chronicle of an extinction”, stresses “the fact that a brown bear has crossed the border doesn’t mean the brown bear has returned to Portugal. What we have here is a wandering animal…”

The young male is expected to continue his wanderings until he finds what he is looking for, and this could very possibly see him returning to Spain.

Spanish authorities first picked up on this particular bear at the end of April.

Droppings were found near a cluster of beehives close to the town of La Tejera, in the Zamora province of Spain’s autonomous region of Castile and Leon.

Authorities in Portugal were advised that the bear could be heading south, which is exactly what he has done.

It’s now a question of ‘wait and see’.

Say reports, the last brown bear was killed by locals living in the Gerês national park in 1843.

The species in Spain was also depleting until authorities ‘adopted conservation measures’ and two groups have slowly became established.

Brown bears, or grizzlies as they’re known in the US, can be found a little throughout Europe where roughly 14,000 live in what are described as fragmented populations.

Says Wikipedia, these bears are “extinct in the British Isles, extremely threatened in France and Spain and in trouble over most of central Europe”.

Elsewhere, there are well-established populations in America, Canada, Russia, China, Scandinavia, central Asia and the Carpathian region (Romania, Anatolia and the Caucasus).

Brown bears are omnivores and can reach up to 200 kilos (males). Females rarely exceed 150 kilos.

Online site “Portugal num mapa” asks the question ‘could brown bears return to Portugal’, adding that footprints of a brown bear were discovered back in 2005, just 20 kms from the border with Spain, within the natural park of Montesinho.

“They will probably enter Portugal – if they already haven’t with no-one noticing – but whether they will stay only time can tell”.

Much will depend on legal protection, says the site, and mentalities of the human populations affected.

UPDATE (click here).

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