Habitat destruction, poaching and historic hunting are pressuring bear populations in most parts of the world
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — While we here in Colorado are busy trying to educate the public about how to reduce unwanted and potentially dangerous bear encounters, the animals are facing much bigger problems in other parts of the world. Take Europe, for example, where bears are nearly extinct in many countries.
England’s last bears were killed 2,000 years ago, and France, according to recent reports, only has a population of eight wild bears left in the Pyrenees, hardly a sustainable population. Spain, a country that still has large undeveloped areas, has a population of only 80 bears in the Cantabrian Mountains. Germany”s last native bears were killed about 170 years ago, and when an unfortunate bear wandered from Italy into Germany a few years ago, it was shot.
The only places left in Europe with significant bear populations are to the east, in Romania, for example, with a population of about 6,500 bears, and Russia, with 36,000.
Recently, France has been trying to rebuild the bear population on a small scale in the Pyrenees by translocating bears captured in Eastern Europe. Conservation biologists estimate that, even with a population density in the region, the Alps could sustain a population of about 1,000 bears. The habitat is there, but the political and social will is not.
Asian bear species are also declining, mainly due to habitat destruction, and because they are being poached for their organs, sought-after in Asian markets for their supposed health benefits. The Asian decline has led to increase pressure on bears in other parts of the world.
In South America, the spectacled bear species and sub-species are struggling for survival in the remaining patches of forest in the high country of Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru.
All that suggests that we’re lucky to live in a country big enough for both humans and wild animals and that we can, and should, find ways to co-exist. For Summit County, that means taking all the simple precautions needed to keep bears out of trouble, like using bear-proof garbage cans and putting away grills and bird feeders during the summer.
On a broader level, we need to make sure that we maintain adequate habitat and protect movement corridors for bears and other wild animals.