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The Spanish Brown Bear

The Spanish Brown Bear is almost extinguished. Learn about the brown bear population in the Asturias region, the brown bears habitat and the Pyrenees bear.

The Spanish brown bear or Cantabrian brown bear is among the animals most at risk of extinction in Spain. In the Asturias region in Spain, there are only an estimated 80 brown bears left (2011). Human pressure has caused a destruction of brown bear habitat and hunting has caused a reduction in their numbers. However, recent protection measures are starting to prove fruitful. The Spanish brown bear is the largest predator on the Iberian Peninsula. Males can reach heights of 2 meters and weights of around 180 kilograms. Their large size requires them to live in vast areas of land in order to properly fulfill their omnivorous diet of fruits, roots, small animals and carcasses. The brown bears in Spain can walk more than 20 kilometers in their search for food.

Female brown bears usually have small litters of cubs of between one and three, and up to four in rare cases, although typically they give birth to two bear cubs. This scarcity of bear cubs and the amount of time needed to bring them up (cubs depend on their mother for a year and half, meaning that the mother cannot reproduce again for 2 years after each litter) makes it a difficult and slow process to recover their dwindling population. Additionally, poaching is one of the largest problems in the conservation of these beautiful beasts.

Brown Bear: characteristics

One of the most impressive characteristics of the Spanish brown bear is its enormous head and two small eyes. Its ears are small and rounded and its fur ranges from dark brown, almost black to very light blonde, or nearly white. Sometimes several mixed shades are present in the same animal. However, Cantabrian and Pyrenees brown bears tend to have darker, more blackish-colored legs than their European counterparts. Because of this, the brown bear population, along with the Pyrenees bears, has even been categorized as a subspecies of the main European population known as Ursus arctos pyrenaicus, although this is highly debated.

Female brown bears come into season during the summer months of June and July. The males are attracted to the odor that the females emit; if two males lay claim to the same female then a fight for mating rights occurs. These fights normally end in injury, and sometimes in the death of one of the suitors. The victorious male will then pursue the female, who may initially reject him, for several days as they get to know each other. The mating ritual will follow, which may last for several days more.

After the long mating ritual, the male brown bear leaves the female. Several months later, she will search for a den to hibernate and give birth. An interesting thing about the brown bear is that after a brief period of growth, the fertilized egg stops growing and floats freely in the bear's uterus until fall. When the mother enters into hibernation, if she is fit enough to bare the pregnancy, the embryo will implant and continue growing. This phenomenon is called delayed implantation.

The cubs are born in January or February, after only two months of pregnancy, while the mother is in hibernation. She will wake up briefly to give birth. During this period, both the mother and the cubs will have to survive on the accumulation of fat that the she has gained before hibernation. The Spanish brown bear cubs have no hair when they are born and weigh only about 350 grams.

With the arrival of spring, the mother bear and her little ones emerge from the den and the learning period of the cubs begin. The cub depends completely on its mother, as previously mentioned, for about a year and a half. It is a fundamental learning period during which brown bears will use their intelligence and individual personalities to learn all of the necessary skills to survive.

Spanish brown bears, as well as other brown bear species, in the wild live to the age of about 25-30 years. In captivity, they can live even longer.

As a general rule, the Spanish brown bear avoids humans and it's difficult to sight them in the wild. However, if you happen to come across one, try not to be scared! Do not scream because it may provoke the animal, just get out of their way as quickly as possible because brown bears can be unpredictable.