A new study has discovered vast areas which are potentially suitable for habitation by European bears. The European brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) was hunted to extinction in Great Britain and persecuted to near extinction across much of Europe. Consequently, it is believed that 17 000 individuals now live in in Europe; in 2 large (>5 000), 3 medium (500-5 000), 1 small (100-500) and 6 very small populations (<100).
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How much space is there?
The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg estimates there is 1 million square kilometres of potentially suitable habitat. Of the above mentioned suitable habitat, it is believed that 380 000 square kilometres are uninhabited by bears. Therefore, the habitat may be critical in helping connect isolated populations, which are at a greater risk of localised extinction.
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For example some European bear populations are extremely isolated, like the Cantabrian Brown Bear of Northern Spain and recently a bear has wandered into Portugal or the small bear population in the Trentino, South Tyrol where once in awhile a bear wanders into Austria and onto to Germany. These small isolated populations have an increased risk of becoming locally extinct. So does this potential habitat help?
Its up to the bears
While we can conduct surveys to get data and make predictive models of where the bears may move, ultimately, it is up to the bears. Wildlife always surprises us and finds a way. However, the rate at which they are able to find a way, is limited by us humans. Moreover, our uses of these habitats and our activities around these areas will affect the bears choice.
For these large carnivores, Wilderness is key. Areas that are large and un-fragmented, that are able to support their life histories and somewhere they won’t be disturbed.
The European Wilderness Society’s European Wilderness Quality Audit System, promotes Wilderness. Through our principles and stewardship plan we let Wilderness be wild, while ensuring no human intervention.
While certain populations of European bears have been improving other issues have cropped up. Namely the same problems that arose from the return of the wolf and other carnivores have also reared their head with the return of the bears. In the French Pyrenees, bears have come into conflict with farmers and livestock owners. Which in turn has resulted in local mayors calling for the removal of bears. Bears in Slovenia are often robbing beehives causing conflict with local farmers and the case of Danica in Trentino was an example where Bears get into a conflict with local citizens and as a result get killed by the authorities.
Please also read: Bear Daniza killed by authorities