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Bear with us

By JW Dowey - 10 Jun 2014 6:50:28 GMT
Bear with us

These two have obviously heard about the need to establish dominance, but they can't beat the record of old Pyros. These cubs are safely enclosed within the beautiful Bavarian Black Forest; bear image; Credit: © Shutterstock

When it comes to bears, we really appreciate them. Look at our grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis story by Chris Nunally at - Losing our grizzly bears: the call of the wild , or read up on Pyros the European brown bear, Ursus arctos arctos in the Pyrenees here, in - Pyros, the Ursine Romeo! It is Pyros who is the source of this story today.

He is recorded as having fathered most of the paltry 30 individuals wandering the mountains between France and Spain. For 20 years, he has dominated the small band, being the father, grandfather and great-grandfather of the cubs. The other 4 adult males haven't had a look in, even though one is actually unrelated to the old guy (maybe the only one.) Jose Enrique Arró is the local councillor for the Val d'Aran, stating to his local paper, "If he keeps up this sexual vigour and dominant attitude for a few more years, the other males in the mountains have no chance of mating with any of the females."

Serious inbreeding is resulting from this bear's success, which in a real world would be good for the species, passing on his powerful genes. But this isn't the real world. The 30 protected bears have to gain some variation, that would normally occur when migration brought new individuals into the population or out of it. Pyros has to be taken out, basically, but how to do it. The only possible solutions involve castration or isolation. He should have stopped breeding as a 19-year-old, but he's already 26.

Next Spring a new immigrant from Slovenia is likely to take over the role of pyros. He's produced such good results, the authorities in charge of environmental issues will find it impossible to do anything other than castrate him. He would resume a normal old age, after that, and may even outlive many of his offspring, given his undoubted "vigour." If his position of dominance were to be maintained, of course, then his days in the Pyrenees would be very limited, but a bear of that age must surely become less of a problem to others. His teeth will soon be lost, making him unattractive to potential mates.

Perhaps the real answer is to transfer a number of the inbred bears to another location with a Slovenian male bear, but also introduce another male to this colony. It will add a mass of information to our dossier on brown bears, perhaps indicating behavioural differences from other brown bear populations.

We're all waiting with bear-bated breath to see what happens in the Spring. I'm sure Pyros will also benefit if good decisions are made in the Val d'Aran and in Slovenia. The old guy deserves some reward for maintaining the whole Pyrenean bear population, one-handed, so to speak!