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© Sanchez & Lope / WWF
Brown Bear
Over a period of 100 years, the brown bear was nearly eradicated from the Alpine region.
By the early 20th century, only one Alpine bear (Ursus arctos) population remained in the Trentino region of the Italian Alps. By the 1990s, even this population was threatening to go extinct with only 3 or 4 bears remaining. Luckily, the recovery of important natural bear habitat and the formation of policy-level protection measures saved the bear from completely disappearing from the Alps. 
Today, with the help of restocking and reintroduction programmes, the bear is slowly returning to former Alpine territory. But its return is not without opposition and many challenges will need to be overcome before a viable Alpine bear population can establish itself.

For instance, bears that are leaving the core areas to settle in new Alpine regions are mostly males. Without a female presence in these areas, the expansion of the core Alpine bear population will not be possible. Even more troubling is the recent extinction of bears in the Northern Limestone Alps (Austria) which demonstrates how fragile small and isolated populations can be.


What we do

Of all the challenges facing the return of the bear to the Alps, low acceptance remains one of the largest. WWF is working to reduce human-bear conflict by preparing both Alpine communities and tourists for the return of the bear through education and effective bear management.

Distribution in the Alps

Distribution of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) in the European Alps. 
© European Alpine Programme

Bringing Back Bears

More than a decade ago, the last Alpine bear population in the Trentino region of the Italian Alps was threatening to go extinct. Fortunately, with the help of the LIFE URSUS bear reintroduction project, this did not happen. An initial feasibility study found that there was enough suitable bear habitat available and that more than 70% of the inhabitants of the area were in favour of the project. Over a four year period (1999-2002), ten bears were successfully released in the area culminating in the birth of 9 young in the project's final year.

Source: Life Ursus Reintroduction Project

Brown bear trail, inauguration of brown bear theme trail, Switzerland © Anita Mazzetta / WWF-Switzerland

The URSINA project: As bears begin to disperse into areas where humans are no longer adapted to living with them, conflict arises. WWF is working to reduce this conflict through the Ursina project, an initiative by WWF and local partners to promote bear acceptance in the Rhaetic Triangle area and to help communities prepare for the return of the bear. Implementing bear-safe management practices - like the use of bear proof garbage bins, the reintroduction of guard dogs, and honey bee protection - will be key to ensuring a future for brown bears in the region. In addition, an educational bear-trail was created to inform both locals and visitors about the brown bear in the Alps.

Brown bear © Mauro Belardi

The LIFE ARCTOS project: For most of the 20th century, the Trentino region of the Italian Alps was a refuge for brown bears as they were eradicated from the rest of the Alpine arc. Today, after successful restocking projects saved this population from near extinction, the Trentino bear population has grown to between 25 and 30 individuals. But the recovery and future survival of this population depends on conservation minded management practices that meet cross-sectoral consensus. The LIFE ARCTOS project - for which WWF Italy is an active partner - aims to ensure the successful conservation of brown bears in the Italian Alps through joint action involving all relevant stakeholders.

Infographics for the Alpine ecoregion.
© Infographics for the Alpine ecoregion.  © WWF European Alpine Programme

Within a period of 100 years, the brown bear was nearly eradicated from the Alps.