Species of the week #104 – Brown bear

Do you still remember poor Bruno? Declared a “problem bear” by the Bavarian government, he was shot a few weeks after his appearance in Germany. After the last wild brown bear had been shot in 1835, Bruno was the first brown bear to appear on German territory in 170 years. At present, another bear, presumably from northern Italy, is occasionally on the move in the district of Garmisch-Patenkirchen. It has not yet been sighted by humans, but occasionally it has been caught in photo traps.

Distribution status in Germany Threat with extinction
Remaining occurance in Europe Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Romania, Estonia, Latvia
Last sighting in Germany current
Habitat Wooded Mountains
Threat Shooting, illegal logging, habitat fragmentation

In recent years, more and more bears have been migrating to the Alps from the south and east, so it is hopefully only a matter of time before the first bear returns to Germany. In Austria, 25 brown bears are already believed to exist. Until the end of the Middle Ages, brown bears were widespread in Germany. Around 1700, they were only found in sparsely populated areas, for example in the Bavarian Forest or in the Alps. But even these populations were hunted intensively, the last German brown bear was killed in 1835 in the Chiemgau Alps (district of Traunstein).

Weighing up to 150 kg and with a shoulder height of 150 centimetres, brown bears are extraordinarily imposing animals. Although they are the largest domestic predator, brown bears eat a vegetarian diet for most of the year, eating roots, grasses, herbs, berries and fruits. By their mere presence, they change the forest in which they live, as they spread the various seeds they eat throughout their territory. Their function as scavengers and preying on sick animals are also important for the health of the ecosystem.

Brown bears (Latin Ursus arctos) are found worldwide in several subspecies, such as the Kodiak bear, grizzly bear or Isabella bear. Most European brown bears (Ursus arctos arctos) live in Romania. The large forested mountains of the Carpathians provide a good habitat, and people are used to the bears due to centuries of living together. There is even an orphanage there for young bears whose mothers have been driven away or killed by forestry work. Illegal logging is a major problem here. Because of this sacrilege to the last great primeval forests of Europe, the European Commission has initiated infringement proceedings against Romania.

The biggest threats to brown bears, apart from lack of acceptance, are habitat fragmentation and loss, and poaching. Population growth and the spread of better hunting weapons have gradually wiped out the brown bear in many areas. High prices are paid for bear paws or bear fat on black markets. Although hunting is banned in most countries, bears continue to die at the hands of humans.

Political imperative:

– End illegal logging in Romania.

– Management plans for coexistence with bears

– No more habitat fragmentation

Photo : By Gregory & Smith – Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ssp.), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40573941

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