Environmental News Archive

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Brown bear returns to Switzerland

29 July, 2005, AFP/Animal Planet News

The brown bear has returned to Switzerland more than a century after it was last seen in the country, officials said on Thursday.

Earlier that day, two park rangers in the southeast of the country observed a brown bear wandering through the Ofen Pass near the town of Tschierv in the Swiss Alps, Swiss National Parks said.

After days of reports from local inhabitants, it was the first confirmed sighting of the bear, which is thought to have wandered over from the adjacent Stelvio National Park in neighboring Italy.

Park officials had been expecting the bear for months. Earlier this year, Swiss authorities had set aside land in the southeast of the country to encourage brown bears to enter from northern Italy.

Wolves, lynx and bears were hunted to extinction in Switzerland in the late 19th century. The country's last brown bear was shot by hunters in the Swiss Alps in 1904.

The conservation group WWF, which is based in Geneva, believes that brown bears can reclaim their former range in the Swiss Alps as long as local farmers accept their presence.

The European brown bear, which can weigh up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds), is a protected species throughout the continent.

Bears from Slovenia were reintroduced to Italy's northeastern Trentino region in 1999. The animals are also present in Austria.

In recent years, wolves returned to the southern Swiss Alps after moving north through Italy and France, while the lynx was reintroduced in the country's northern Jura Mountains.

In recent years, the Swiss government has relaxed laws allowing farmers to kill wolves found preying on sheep.

Name: Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
Primary Classification: Ursida (Bears)
Location: Mainly Canada, Alaska and Russia. Also Europe, Syria, northern India, the continental United States and other countries.
Habitat: A variety of habitats, preferring open areas such as tundra, alpine meadows and coastlines.
Diet: Mainly vegetation, including grasses, roots, moss, bulbs and tubers. Also insects, fungus, small mammals, salmon and carrion.
Size: Averages 5 to 9 ft from head to rump and 200 to 1,700 lbs in weight.
Description: Dense, dark brown fur; small, amber-colored eyes; broad, black nose; small, round ears; shoulder hump; long, curved, nonretractable claws.
Cool Facts: It has some of the largest olfactory membranes in the animal kingdom, allowing it to detect scents from over a mile away. It uses its claws to dig for roots and tubers, excavate small mammals from their burrows, dig depressions in the ground for resting and to mark trees, communicating territorial boundaries and reproductive status.
Conservation Status: Common, but threatened in some parts of its range.
Major Threat(s): Habitat loss and poaching.

More data on bears at Bear Trust and Worldwide Bear Conservation.