For the last seventeen years Luna and Ponderoso have been living in a zoological park in the city of León. The brown bears arrived illegally with no papers though are believed to be of Eurasian origin, and are now looking for a new home. In 2008 "El Coto Escolar" was reported to the authorities by a group that monitors zoos.
Infozoos called for the park to be closed down due to the poor conditions in which the animals were kept, size of enclosures, the lack of information plaques and the non-compliance with European laws which state that zoos should be part of conservation and/or breeding programmes. Since then the park must have cleaned up its act somewhat as it is still in existence. Information on the bears is very vague. Apparently all that is known of the animals is that Ponderoso came from a zoo in Valladolid.
The lack of documentation for the bears has previously impeded their removal to a more suitable home by not complying with CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) laws but the Spanish government has recently given special dispensation to go ahead, offering to provide correct documentation for them both.
So what has this to do with the Cantabrian mountains? At least four municipalities in the central Cantabrian mountains, the area around Riaño, have offered land on which the Castile-León government could build a suitable enclosure for these bears. The mayors involved foresee the potentially huge attraction
that the bears could provide having been calling for revitalisation aid for their de-populated communities for years. As an area with brown bears still in the wild, an installation along the lines of the Casa del Oso (see Paca and Tola) in Asturias with an interpretation centre and real live bears to view would bring many visitors and a much-needed financial boost, a golden opportunity the mayors don´t want to miss. It would be a shame to say the least if the bears ended up in yet another zoo somewhere in the peninsula from where the species was exterminated centuries ago instead of helping to provide education in an area where wild bears do still survive. The mayors' proposals have the full support of wildlife conservationists, the Fundación Oso Pardo (Brown Bear Foundation) and the University of León, who are prepared to oversee any project involving the bears.
The regional government of Castile-León, however, is only prepared to offer moral backing, not considering itself the relevant authority to finance such a project preferring a private investor to come up with the money. This is perplexing residents around Riaño who are wondering why their regional administration is financially supporting projects such as a donkey sanctuary in Zamora or a freshwater crayfish interpretation centre in Herrera de Pisuerga through its Natural Heritage Foundation but refusing to stump up for a bear interpreation centre of their own.
Could it be that the Castile-León regional government prefers to support unsustainable projects such as the building of ski resorts?
Info and photo of Luna and Ponderoso from the Diario de León.