Bad news: brown bears extinct in Austria

2012 - 02 - 28

Population of brown bears in Austria extinct. „Unfortunately there is no bear left in the Northern Limestone Alps. The last bear “Moritz”, which was born in Austria could not be detected in 2011. The sub-population is deemed to be extinct,“ said Christian Pichler from WWF Austria.

The bears in the Northern Limestone Alps originate from a WWF Austria augmentation project. Three bears were released in the Northern Limestone Alps by the ‘WWF Bear Release Programme’, running from 1989 to 1993. The location was chosen because one single male bear (identified with the name “Ötscherbär”) had naturally dispersed to the area in 1972.

Between 1989 and 2010 at least 35 bears have lived in this region. „WWF Austria was working more than 20 years on this project to bring back bears to Austria and to the Alps. One reason why we failed was poaching, more than 20 bears are missing. But another reason was the small founder population,“ add Christian Pichler.

The brown bear population in the Border Triangle between Austria, Italy, and Slovenia is connected to the large population of the Dinaric Alps. Bears – mostly young males – disperse from the core Southern Slovenia area toward the Alps. The numbers of bears that reach the Alps is dependent on the Slovenian hunting regime.

In the last decade the hunting quotas were considerably increased because dispersing bears created conflicts with bee keepers and stockbreeders. „At present 12-15 individuals are estimated to range in the Border Triangle. Approximately 5-8 bears of these individuals in Carinthia – a province in the south of Austria, but no reproduction was recorded there,“ said Christian Pichler.

„We all believe this is not the end of the whole story of bears in Austrian Alps, but only of one sad chapter. And we hope, that next chapters will be more positive and bears will be back to this area again,“ said Dalibor Dostal, the director of European Wildlife conservation organization.

WWF Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and France are working on a Brown Bear Conservation Strategy now. It will be published in the next 3 months.

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