Spanish wildlife rangers have recovered the bodies of two brown bear cubs and their mother, who is thought to have been the same animal filmed three months ago sending a male bear tumbling to his death down a precipice after he attacked.
Rangers and bear experts found the bodies of the female and her cubs at the bottom of a 33-metre crevice inside a cave in the northern Castile and León region on Friday.
Teams had been searching for the animals since 5 June, when the bear and one of her offspring were attacked by a male bear that appeared to want to kill the cub in order to mate with the mother.
A video of the struggle, shot by two hikers, showed the mother taking on the much larger male before the pair plunged dozens of metres down a rocky mountainside in Palencia.
The male – which weighed 217kg – died of his injuries, while the bloodied and badly injured mother and one of her cubs took refuge in a nearby cave.
“Early on 6 June, we managed to locate the body of a dead male bear near the scene of the fall,” Castile and León’s environment ministry said in a statement.
“Over the following days, we also confirmed that both the female bear and her cub were alive some 15 metres inside the cave. After determining they were still alive, food and water were placed in the cave to help them recover with as little interference as possible.”
But, as the days went on, signs of life faded and the teams used a drone and a videoscope camera to try to find the animals.
On 2 September, they found the bodies of three bears deep inside the crevice, which was just 50cm wide.
“The state of the remains of the bear cubs is compatible with them both being the [female] bear’s offspring, although one of them had disappeared in the days leading up to the fall,” the statement added.
The remains have been taken to a specialist wildlife centre, where autopsies will be carried out to confirm the cubs’ parentage and how they died.
The Brown Bear Foundation, which helped in the search, said it was possible that the bears were using the cave as a den and that the missing cub had fallen into the crevice before the fight.
The foundation’s president, Guillermo Palomero, said the male bear’s behaviour was not unusual.
“As happens with other animals, male bears have an instinct to kill cubs with the aim of mating again,” he told Agence France-Presse shortly after the attack.
“They look for female bears with cubs that they can kill. The female enters an oestrus period two or three days after [the cub has been killed] so the male bear can copulate with her.”
According to the foundation, there are about 330 brown bears spread across the northern Spanish regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Castile and León, and an estimated 70 in the Pyrenees between Spain and France.
Brown bears have been a protected species in Spain since 1973. In an effort to consolidate the bear population in the Pyrenees, brown bears from Slovenia have been introduced over the past two decades.
This article by Sam Jones was first published by The Guardian on 7 September 2022. Lead Image: Mother bear takes on larger bear to defend her cub before plunging down mountainside – video.
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