They are one of the world’s largest living carnivores but you need to be in the right place to spot them
It may seem surprising but the brown bear is the most abundant large carnivore in Europe, with more than 17,000 inhabiting many of the continent’s mainland countries. Over the last two decades, there has been a concerted effort to reintroduce brown bears to parts of Europe where they were in danger of becoming extinct. It means the likelihood of seeing one meandering through an alpine meadow in Italy or digging a den in Norway has been considerably raised.
Since European brown bears, or ursus arctos arctos, hibernate between October and March, you should try and avoid those times. For the best light conditions, go in June, July and the first half of August and head for countries where the bears are most populous. While you can see these magnificent animals in Greece, Turkey, Poland and the Czech Republic, the berry and grass-laden slopes of the steep High Tatras of Slovakia offer a wonderful vantage point of bears as they feed.
That said, Romania offers the best opportunity for bear watching in Europe. It has a population of some 5,000 brown bears mainly in the Carpathian Mountains and their foothills although there are, unfortunately, also many trophy hunters. For this reason, you may want to consider heading for the neighbouring country of Bulgaria where around 800 animals inhabit the central and south-western mountains. Or you may want to head for North Europe where more than 1,200 bears inhabit Norway, Sweden and Finland. By visiting the fringes of the taiga forest that straddles eastern Finland and western Russia, you will see a host of predators. Just look for tourism firms linked to the independent association, Wild Taiga, for the most responsible trips.
It is always worth booking through respectable tour operators. Not only will they advise you of the best ways to view the bears and the most appropriate behaviour, they will keep you safe and show you the best high stands and hides near to feeding sites. Take a camera because you’re sure to get up close.
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