Observing Cantabrian Brown Bears in their natural environment is a truly extraordinary experience. What emotion invades us when the plantigrade appears in our retina, going about its activities without being threatened. Western Cantabrian, between Asturias and León has become the Mecca for nature and bear watchers in Europe. A trip that does not disappoint and should be undertaken during the summer season, when Mediterranean Spain is an inferno.
The first instinct when you think about being close enough to see a bear in the wild… is fear. Healthy and normal thinking a priori. But let’s repeat that in this particular region of Europe, bears pose (practically) no danger. What is also crazy is to think that the famous North American grizli is a subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos), that is to say a very close relative of the Cantabrian brown bear. But let’s stay calm, Cantabrian bears are harmless.
Brown bear in Degaña and Faraponas in Asturias.
First of all, their size is smaller… but still very imposing compared to a human being. This may be due to several factors, among others, that the climate in Spain is less cold than other European regions populated by ursids. Bears therefore need less protein to maintain their metabolism, and even if they scavenge occasionally, we cannot consider them predators. Essentially frugivorous, they feed on fruits from the forest (and orchards!). More important surely, the very long cohabitation of the species with the shepherds installed in the mountains, and the systematic hunting of bears by humans… ended up making the bear very timid (today) which runs away almost systematically if he distinguishes a human silhouette.
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At the end of August, bears visit the hazelnut trees.
You have to eat hazelnuts or blueberries to meet the energy needs of such a heavy animal! Adults weigh well over 100, even 200, kilos. The bears thus spend very long periods just feeding on small fruits, an ideal circumstance for us, the observers, who delight in seeing them occupied for such a long time.
Again, bears near the Pola de Somiedo.
Observing bears is not seeing a bear… There are multiple configurations on the ground: solitary individuals, males or females (we can never be certain, even if statistics tend to indicate that light-colored individuals are often more females and black ones more often males), mothers accompanied by one or two cubs, who become independent after their second winter, solitary young or even with their siblings.
And the behaviors of mammals are varied. Depending on the season, plantigrades feed on different fruits, blackberries, cherries, hazelnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, etc.