Eco-tourism and bears in Somiedo

Following a rather sensational article in El Pais, an interesting polemical discussion is currently going on in the Spanish press. The original article centres on the dangers of bears becoming accustomed to human presence and approaching villages and their food sources, such as beehives, with the ensuing possibility of attacks on humans that this could incur. It refrains from mentioning that, in the north of Spain, bears and humans have lived side by side for hundreds of years resulting in no, or very little, danger on the part of the humans. In fact there exists a certain admiration and respect among the people of the Cantabrian mountains for their Ursine neighbours. The article also omits the very important factor of the lack of carrion around (an important part of the bear’s diet) due to the BSE laws enforcing the removal of carcasses from the countryside. Another concern raised is that foreign tour companies, in particular the British wildlife tour company Naturetrek, are endangering the future of the bears by disturbing them in their natural habitat.

Naturetrek deny they cause the bears any disturbance, a spokesman stating that their tours look for bears at a distance using public footpaths, though they don’t guarantee sightings. The Asturian tourist board and ecologist groups are of the opinion that this kind of tourism is endangering the growth and survival of the precarious Cantabrian brown bear population. However, bear specialist organisations and the mayor of Somiedo all envisage a future of guided and regulated wildlife-watching tours contributing to the local economy without disturbing the bears. A delicate balance.

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