Most Googled: Are there bears in Germany?
In this week’s edition of Most Googled, we take a look at whether there are bears in Germany. Short answer: there aren’t any, since they have supposedly been extinct in the country for over 150 years. However, there have been sightings of bears in recent years, which has raised the question as to whether bears could, in fact, be reintroduced to the German wilds once again.
Germany and bears
If you have never been to Germany before, you could be forgiven for believing that bears are to be found in the country’s deep forests and expansive wildlands. Bears have been a common symbol associated with Germany for hundreds of years. Not only can you find a bear on the flag and coat of arms of Berlin, and on various heraldic signs and symbols in Bavaria, but the country is also famous for its dense forests and woodland areas, as well as sweeping mountainous regions, which are perfect habitats for our furry pals.
Even when we watch historical films today, we are often presented with the imperious Romans, clad head to toe in plate armour, facing off against the Germanic barbarians, who are often portrayed draped in bear and other animal furs. Bears have long been a symbol of strength and a favoured symbol of warriors in Germanic culture, and it was not uncommon for soldiers, and even entire tribes, to associate themselves with them.
When were bears last seen in Germany?
Bears, in particular the Eurasian brown bear, used to be a common sight throughout Europe. They could be found in Britain and Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Greece, Portugal - literally everywhere in Europe! Unfortunately, they were the target of hunters all throughout history. Bears weren’t only a danger that had to be neutralised if they got too close to human habitats and farms, but hunting them was considered a sign of strength, and their body parts were often put on display. In fact, a bear could provide a lot of resources for early humans, as their meat and fat were used in cooking, while their pelts could be used as clothing.
Bears were slowly hunted to near extinction across Europe. On the mainland, bears are all but gone from western Europe but can still be found pretty widely across eastern Europe, with the largest population found in Romania and Russia – particularly in Siberia. They can also be found pretty extensively in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Bears went extinct in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century, with the last individual photographed in the Bavarian mountains back in 1835. Bears could only be found in captivity in Germany from then on and not a single one has been seen in the wilds. Well … until 2006.
Bruno the bear comes to Germany
There were no reports or sightings of wild bears from 1835 until 2006, when a young male brown bear called Bruno wandered into Germany from Austria. Bruno had apparently made a 250-kilometre hike from northern Italy and was welcomed by animal conservationists and nature groups, who celebrated the return of the rare animal. However, Bruno would quickly become a nuisance, destroying beehives, killing sheep and even walking through a Bavarian village and taking a rest in front of the police station. For his shenanigans, Bruno earned the nickname: “Problem Bear”.
Unfortunately, the Bruno was deemed a threat, and, on the behest of the government, hunters tracked down the bear. Bruno did manage to elude his hunters for a while, and the search ended up costing over 125.000 euros. However, he was eventually shot and killed. His remains were preserved and kept at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich.
Could bears actually return to Germany?
13 years after Bruno’s death, in October 2019, another bear strolled into Bavaria. He had apparently also come from northern Italy and had made his way to Austria before crossing the German border. The bear has not been spotted again but footprints were found around the area where it was originally sighted. The Bavarian Department for Environment issued a statement at the time, urging the public not to panic and informing livestock farmers of the animal's presence.
The department has set up a plan to deal with the return of large animals, like bears and wolves, which begs the question: can bears be reintroduced into the German wilds?
Wolves have already been reintroduced to Germany and can mainly be found around the Elbe River in northern and eastern Germany. The wolf population has been safeguarded by conservation efforts, and the federal government has put in measures to protect farmers and their livestock. Eagles and lynxes are two other predators that have also been successfully reintroduced into German forests, but bears have still yet to flourish.
The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation has previously said that there is a high probability that brown bears will return to Germany at some point, and some have actually been seen in the Bayerischer Wald, a national park in the southwest of the country. However, their population is still small and experts agree that it will take strong conservation efforts to properly reintroduce the beautiful brown bear back into Germany.
How do you feel about bears returning to Germany?
So, what would you think about the reintroduction of bears into German forests? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you have any questions about Germany that you would like answered, send them our way and who knows? Maybe we’ll answer it in the next edition of Most Googled!