The natural border between France and Spain, the Pyrenees extend from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, separating the Iberian Peninsula from continental Europe, with rich wildlife.
The Pyrenees are older than the Alps; the eastern part consists largely of granite, while the granite peaks of the west are flanked by layers of limestone. This abundance of erosion-resistant rock explains the typically unworn appearance of these massive mountains, whose highest peak rises to just over 3,400 metres.
Unlike the Alps there is a conspicuous absence of large lakes; the few mountain passes are all relatively high; many streams form high waterfalls, similar to those in Scandinavia; and the upper ends of several valleys end in a semicircle of sheer cliffs, known as a cirque. Dramatic landscapes indeed!
The mountainous topography gives rise to some notable endemic species. The Pyrenean desman (one of only two Eurasian species of the mole family) is an aquatic creature with a long snout and a hairless tail; the other is found only in the Caucasus in southern Russia!) lives in streams of the northern i.e. French slopes. The Pyrenean euprocte, an endemic relative of the salamander, also lives in high-altitude streams and lakes.
The Pyrenean ibex sadly became extinct in 2000 however, despite being hunted to near-extinction, the native Pyrenean brown bear is making a comeback. Since three bears were re-introduced from Slovenia in 1996, it has bred successfully and some 15 brown bears are now believed to inhabit the central region.
Much of the range is protected by the Parc National des Pyrénées on the French side, and another three parks on the Spanish side (Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park and Posets-Maladeta Natural Park). The eastern end of the Parc National des Pyrénées forms part of the French section of the Pyrénées - Mont Perdu World Heritage Site, which straddles the border.
The French park was created in 1967 as a natural heritage site without barriers or fences where animals are totally free. Devoted to preserving biodiversity and landscapes, as well as allowing the study of flora and fauna, the park is home to 70 different species of animals. The eastern portion of the national park forms part of the French section of the Pyrénées - Mont Perdu World Heritage Site that straddles the border between France and Spain.
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