The Pyrenees bear at risk of the “genetic bomb”

The large family of plantigrades is doing quite well in the French Pyrenees. According to the report from the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB) published on April 2, there are at least 83 individuals, including 16 cubs born in the winter of 2022-2023. This estimate is based on data collected by the Brown Bear network team, made up of 450 members (state agents, naturalists, breeders, association volunteers, etc.): excrement, hairs, prints, photos and videos captured by approximately eighty fixed automatic devices installed on the roads of six departments. For Julien Steinmetz, OFB agent responsible for tracking the bear, “the results are once again good, with an increase of 10% in the population per year since 1996.”

In total, there are 1,731 “clues” of presence which were collected, over an area of ​​7,100 square kilometers, including 349 attacks observed on flocks of sheep. Since 1996 and the first reintroductions of bears from Slovenia, the number of bears has increased eightfold, although they had almost disappeared in the 1990s. The brown bear became a protected species in 1992, in the framework of the European Habitats – fauna – flora directive, which obliges the French State to work for its conservation.

Of the 83 individuals counted in 2023, have been identified “37 females and 40 males. The 16 cubs came from 11 litters,” said specified Julien Steinmetz. The OFB agent also emphasizes, more than ever, the number of different females “sequels”, that is to say accompanied by their young, with supporting DNA evidence, has only been as important this year.

“Serial-lover” of the peaks

If, in the Pyrenees, we welcome the good health of the European brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos), some voices are alarmed by a danger that awaits him: inbreeding. Starting with the Pays de l’ours-Adet association, which brings together animal lovers and specialists. “The new OFB report obscures what is becoming the essential question for the future of the bear in the Pyrenees: increasing inbreeding, affirms its director Alain Reynes. All cubs born in 2023 are affected, as are almost all bears present. Some are the products of parents and grandparents who are already inbred themselves. Genetic diversity is deteriorating, the genetic bomb has been triggered! » If the OFB recognizes that the risk exists, it ensures that it does not observe “currently affecting illnesses or early mortality. »

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