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The Brown Bear: An Endangered Species


By Spiros Tzelepis

The threat posed to this species by human activity is increasing

The brown bear is considered as one of the endangered species in Western, Central and Southern Europe and in North America since its population has declined by 50% during the two previous centuries.


The brown bear

In Greece there are about 110-130 individual bears, one of the largest populations in the European Union. The fact that there is communication with the other populations in the neighboring Balkan countries increases the animal's survival possibilities in Greece, while the bear population in Italy, Spain and central France is constantly declining because of their geographical isolation.

Nevertheless, scientific research shows that even in Greece the bear population is decreasing and that its geographical distribution is very limited as the population becomes isolated because of the fragmentation of the geographical areas where the bears used to spread. That is why the animal has been characterized as a "threatened-vulnerable species" the protection of which is a top priority.

The fact that the bear still lives in the mountains is a proof of the good condition of the ecosystem while its disappearance will cause loss of precious genetic material and limitation to biodiversity on a planetary scale.

The problem of the brown bear is connected with the captive bears, which includes two cases:

  1. The dancing bears. Dancing bears have a long tradition in Balkan countries. The animal is captured when young in order to be trained after the killing of the mother (otherwise the mother would never allow anybody to approach the cubs). The training of the cub is a painful procedure as its nose is pierced and a ring is put through. The animal is also forced to step on hot metal sheets while a tambourine plays so that every time the cub hears the tambourine it stands on its hind legs, fearing that it will be burnt. So the dancing is the reaction to the association of the sound of the tambourine with the pain. In Greece the killing, capture and possession of bears have been illegal since 1969. Nevertheless, illegal activities continue and therefore a close cooperation between aware citizens and state is necessary.
  2. Bears in zoos. Many of the zoos do not operate under the guidelines of the law. European legislation is moving towards the abolition of the zoos. In this case the animals that have been reared in captivity and thus are dependent on man will be a problem. Regardless of this, it is widely believed that the majority of the zoos do not offer the appropriate living conditions to the animals.

The above situation was the incentive for measures to be taken against these phenomena and projects which deal with the issue have arisen.

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