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Where do bears occur in Switzerland?

There is no resident (permanent) population of bears in Switzerland. However, almost every year, bears immigrate from the Trentino population via the Grisons into Switzerland. So far, the majority of records occurred in the Engadine and Val Poschiavo. The male bear M29 continued then via Central Switzerland to the cantons of Berne and Valais (see Distribution; Travel route of bear M29 in Switzerland). Current records can be found under Distribution and in the KORA Monitoring Center, respectively.

How many bears are living in Switzerland?

Since 2005, the number of bears in Switzerland varies between 0 and 3 (see Abundance, graph Bear presence in Switzerland 2005–2019). So far, only male bears have arrived in Switzerland, and usually left again after a relatively short time. This results from the social structure of bears: females disperse only rarely over long distances. They live at close range to each other in the core area of the population. Young males disperse to look for females. If they can’t find any, they usually return to the vicinity of the core population.

Why did the bear go extinct in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, a variety of factors led to the extinction of the large carnivores. Basically, the natural resources were heavily overused in the 19th century. The forest area decreased and the wild ungulate populations were overhunted and also extirpated with the exception of relatively small, isolated chamois populations. Even the omnivorous bear depends on animal protein. Consequently, livestock depredation increased – even more so because livestock was driven into the remaining forests to browse – and the conflict between humans and large carnivores intensified. The combination of habitat loss, prey depletion and persecution (incl. federal bounties for the killing of large carnivores) led to the extinction of large carnivores in Switzerland at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century (see also KORA Bericht 24).

Where do the bears in Switzerland originate from?

The bears that have been observed in Switzerland have immigrated from the Trentino population, which numbered ca. 100 animals in 2020. Young males disperse from the population to look for females and establish their own home range.

Does the bear present a danger to humans?

Generally, bears do not attack humans and incidents are very rare. However, bears truly can present a danger to humans. This is mostly the case in very specific situations: e.g., bears that have been fed, and approach humans to look for food; bears that venture into settlements searching for food in unsecured garbage bins; females with cubs; injured bears; or bears getting too close to dogs (especially dogs that are not kept on a leash, which then find a bear and run back to their owner, thus bringing the bear to the human). Most of these scenarios can be avoided with some simple rules of behaviour (see below). Consequently, attacks of bears on humans are relatively rare even in areas with resident bear populations.

How do I behave in a bear area and if I encounter a bear?

Bear areas are definitely no exclusion zones and all activities are still possible. Basic behavioural rules can be found in the appendices of the Swiss bear concept (DE, FR, IT). Additionally, there are factsheets published by the canton of Grisons (DE, IT, Rumantsch) on the general behaviour as well as specifically for hunters and campers. The fact sheet on general behaviour is also available from the canton of Valais (FR). The EU LIFE project LIFE Dinalp Bear – Management and conservation of the brown bear populations in the Dinaric mountains and in the Alps – has also published a factsheet on the general behaviour in a bear area (DE, IT, EN).

Is the bear even necessary?

This question is often asked for animal species, whose presence is not approved by all people. The bear is part of the native fauna. As a top predator, it plays a significant part in the interactions of species and habitats, and the corresponding evolutionary processes. As such, it is an integral part of the biodiversity which is the foundation also of our existence.

Does the bear even have space in densely populated Switzerland?

In 2005, KORA has published a report on this subject. The study was limited to the Alps of south-eastern Switzerland. Suitable habitat can be found in the entire Engadine, in northern Ticino as well as in northern Grisons and the canton of Glarus. This includes several areas of more than 50 km² of connected suitable habitat. This size was chosen as a reference, because it corresponds approximately to the size of a female’s home range in the Trentino. Consequently, the ecological basis is present and the reestablishment of the bear will mainly depend on the acceptance of the local human population.

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