Surprise as brown bear makes a city centre visit

by Lorraine Williamson
brown bear
del canto chambers 2

PONFERRADA – Only a few taxi drivers and the police were able to enjoy a wondrous sunrise spectacle last night in the urban area of ​​Ponferrada in Spain’s region of Castilla y León. 

A brown bear roamed the streets of the city in the middle of the night. It is more common for bears to look for food in inhabited areas, but these are usually small, partly deserted villages. So far they have not ventured into larger cities such as Ponferrada with 65,000 inhabitants. 

See also: At least 70 bears live in the Pyrenees and Andorra 

Some taxi drivers waiting for customers first saw the bear at 3.20 am and alerted the police. They then accompanied the animal to the outskirts of Ponferrada and the area around the River Sil. From there, the animal presumably returned to Monte de Pajariel, just south of the city. 

The brown bear (oso pardo) is a protected species in Spain and a priority in the European Union based on the Habitats Directive. 

First time seeing a bear in such a big city 

Those who saw the bear were very surprised that this happened in such a relatively big city. Even in the mountains of the slightly more northerly region of Asturias, bears occasionally make their way into the inhabited world. But these are incidents and usually occur in small villages or hamlets. The local police and the Oso Pardo foundation told the newspaper El País that it is the first time such features have been seen in a municipality as large as Ponferrada. 

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“Tio, un oso!” 

A stunned taxi driver recorded a video showing the brown bear. The animal ran down the street, past parked cars, and garbage containers, over zebra crossings and past front doors. “Tio, un oso!” (man, a bear!) you hear the driver say at the beginning of his video. In the end, he sighs “Qué grande!” (how big!). The bear has even been spotted by other taxi drivers in the Plaza de Lazúrtegui in the centre of the city. 

See also: Brown bear attack on elderly woman in Asturias 

The police have informed the Oso Pardo foundation and the environmental department of the Junta de Castilla y León of the special incident. In this region, it is more common to see a herd of wild boars foraging in built-up areas for food or waste than bears approaching cities in search of beehives or fruit trees. 

“Very surprising, enormously exceptional” 

Guillermo Palomero, president of the Oso Pardo foundation, asks for moderation. “It is very surprising, very exceptional”, emphasises the expert, who admits that from time to time these animals go to “nearly uninhabited villages that lie near the forests in search of waste in containers”, but it is very unusual “that they walk through a big city like Ponferrada”. 

Enough food in the mountains 

Experts suspect the animal may have become disoriented when moving from one bear habitat to another. In the region of Ponferrada, there are several areas where bears live. Residents of Ponferrada do not have to worry, according to Palomero, as this is an unusual incident. However, researchers will follow up to determine if there may be other factors that led to this particular visit. 

The fact that the bear had to go to the city for his food is excluded, as there are currently enough acorns to be found in cork and holm oaks. Fruits the bears eat to build up a stock of fat before going into hibernation. 

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