Protecting bears in Spain

Fight against poaching

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© Fritz Schimandl

The initiative for Spanish bears is a wonderful example of how important it is even in seemingly hopeless situations to spare no effort in working for a better future. Alongside the fragmentation of their habitat it was above all illegal bear hunting that had very nearly made the large predators extinct in the Cantabrian Mountains. Since the mid 1990s EuroNatur and project partner Fapas have been campaigning to secure this region in North Spain as a habitat for brown bears. Thanks to this unflagging work things are gradually but steadily looking up for the brown bears in the Cantabrian Mountains. Within ten years their numbers have almost doubled.

Stable populations in the western part - the eastern part still needs to catch up

At least in the western part of the mountain range these great, furry mammals have started to increase in number. In the meantime there are even female bears raising their cubs in areas in which no offspring had been seen for decades. The picture is less promising in the eastern section of the Cantabrian Mountains. There is a second population of bears there but separated from the western one and worryingly small: in all probability hardly more than 20 to 55 bears. It will be a correspondingly major challenge to improve living conditions for these rare animals so that they can increase their range and numbers in the eastern as well as in the western part of the Cantabrian Mountains.

Photo Gallery

To open the gallery please click on one of the pictures.

What actions is EuroNatur taking to protect bears in Spain?

  • Targeting illegal attacks on bears: EuroNatur is supporting Fapas in transfering the strategies which have proved their worth in the fight against illegal attacks on bears in the western part over to the Eastern Cantabrian Mountains. The most effective strategy is the presence of numerous rangers in the key areas of illegal hunting.
  • Planting trees for the bears: Fruit tops the list on a bear's menu and so EuroNatur is working with Fapas to plant chestnut trees and now rare varieties of wild fruit trees to improve their available diet. In addition, bear-proof beehives are set up to secure the pollination of the fruit trees.
  • Keeping a close watch on the bears: EuroNatur carries out a comprehensive monitoring programme in conjunction with Fapas using camera traps and documenting traces of bears in the area to collect data on the distribution, density and behaviour of the brown bear population. This has helped us in recent years to gain valuable information and so develop effective protection concepts.
  • Acquiring land for the bears: With the support of EuroNatur donors, the Vaude company and the Association for Conservation of the European Outdoor Group, Fapas buys or leases abandoned mountain farmhouses using the land around them to improve bears' supply of food, to carry out monitoring programmes and to offer environmental education programmes for children.
  • Food for carrion eaters: carcasses form an important source of food for bears and other wild life– at least at certain times. In the “Valley of the Bears” the carcasses of horses and other farm animals are regularly put out at a feeding station for carrion eaters. Read more about the EuroNatur project “Food for carrion eaters”.

What we have so far been able to achieve – a selection of important successes

  • In the western sector of the Cantabrian Mountains it has already proved possible to reduce attacks on bears significantly. The positive development in the bear population is a direct result of this action.
  • Thanks to the improved supply of food female bears are now raising their cubs in areas in which no offspring had been seen in decades.
  • Further, we have so far been successful in preventing the building of the projected San Glorio ski resort which had been planned in the very centre of the brown bear range.
  • After protests from EuroNatur and other organisations the EU slightly revised its rigid hygiene regulations in 2009. In certain regions it is now again possible to leave the carcasses of farm animals lying in the wild as carrion. Read more on the EuroNatur Project “Food for Carrion-eaters”.

Partner: FAPAS (Fondo para la Protección de los Animales Salvajes, Foundation for the Protection of Wild Animals)

Sponsoring: EuroNatur donors and sponsors

How you can help


Future needs nature. EuroNatur cares for it. Please use your possibilities to help. With your donation you will make an effective contribution to protect brown bears in Europe.


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