The life and suspicious death of Cachou the brown bear
Conservationists saw the six-year-old bear as a symbol of hope. Villagers saw him as a menace. Then he turned up dead
Ivan Afonso checked his computer one last time before picking up the phone. It was April 2020 and, like most of Spain, Afonso was stuck at home under a strict Covid lockdown. But his mind was in the mountains.
An environmental scientist, Afonso also served as head of the environmental division in the Aran Valley, a tiny area of the Pyrenees mountain range that forms a dent along Spain’s border with France. For the past three years, his duties had included monitoring the movements of Cachou, a six-year-old, 130kg brown bear. The bear was a local celebrity, one of the few males born in the wild in the Pyrenees and living proof that conservationists’ efforts to rejuvenate the region’s struggling brown bear colony were working.
The task had been a nightmare from the start. Cachou was young and fiery, and — to the dismay of conservationists and farmers — prone to wreaking havoc. Like most bears, Cachou had a sweet tooth. He’d started with assaulting bee farms, but by 2019 he’d learnt to hunt horses many times his size. Eventually, authorities put a tracker on him, but even that didn’t work. At one point he was blamed for four attacks within two weeks...