An endangered bear was shot during a boar hunt in Spain – and it’s not the first time

A brown bear (Ursus arctos) was shot during a wild boar hunt in the Montaña Palentina, a protected area in the Cantabrian Range of northern Spain where this iconic species is on the brink of extinction. Just two years ago, a female with a cub was killed in the same circumstances and in the same hunting area – a case that will soon go to court with WWF-Spain, a partner of the Life SWiPE project, acting as private prosecution.

According to the Regional Government of Castile and Leon, the incident happened during a legal hunt of boars on November 1st, in the Fuentes Carrionas Regional Game Reserve. This method is the most common in the region for wild boar hunting, and it usually involves a large number of hunters. Hounds are driven over an area to flush the game out of cover and push it towards the shooters.

A bear was allegedly shot by accident, and the hunters alerted the authorities after watching it flee the area, leaving behind a blood trail. A sample was taken by officials and law enforcement authorities who arrived at the scene, to confirm with genetic tests if the animal was indeed a bear, and the area was also searched, without success. 

A bear population sink

The case is extremely troubling, as this brown bear population is critically threatened. Although the western Cantabrian subpopulation is faring better, barely 50 bears survive in the eastern Cantabrian subpopulation, with a very low genetic diversity.

The Fuentes Carrionas Game Reserve of Castile and Leon has become a bear population sink, as most of the killings and shootings of the species are concentrated there. Most deaths happen during collective wild boar hunts – a female with a cub was shot in 2020, and bears were killed in similar encounters in 2017, 2012, 2007, and many times before that.

This is the female bear that was shot in 2020 during a similar hunt in Palencia. Credit: Guardia Civil de Palencia

WWF-Spain, a partner of the Life SWiPE project,  has repeatedly called on the Regional Government of Castile and Leon to suspend, as a precautionary measure, all wild boar hunts in those areas that can be considered critical for the survival of the eastern Cantabrian subpopulation of bears.

A hunter is going to court on a similar case

After a criminal investigation that has lasted a year and a half, the hunter who allegedly killed the female bear in 2020 will soon go on trial. Prosecutors have asked for a 2 year prison sentence, a 6,480€ fine, a compensation of 39,197€ to the Regional Government, and a 4 years disqualification to hunt. WWF-Spain is acting as civil prosecution, and alongside the NGO Ecologistas en Acción, its legal team has asked for a prison sentence of 2 years and a half, a 5 years disqualification, and a compensation fine of 100,000€.

The Spanish legal system grants civil society groups the right to bring forward private prosecution cases in court, and conservation NGOs are very active in wildlife crime cases. Spreading this possibility throughout Europe would further contribute to the protection of collective interests of national and international communities.