Franska the bear makes enemies in Pyrenees

18th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

TARBES, France, July 18, 2007 (AFP) - Her name is Franska, one of five Slovenian brown bears introduced in the French Pyrenees mountains last year in a conservation programme that has gone awry.

TARBES, France, July 18, 2007 (AFP) - Her name is Franska, one of five Slovenian brown bears introduced in the French Pyrenees mountains last year in a conservation programme that has gone awry.

Franska has been branded public enemy number one among local farmers who accuse her of killing dozens of sheep and are leading a fierce campaign to have her removed from the mountains in southwestern France.

"Of the 95 attacks on sheep last year, 58 were carried out by this bear," said Georges Azavant, the president of the Pyrenees national park and member of the Hautes-Pyrenees council.

"Mistakes were made in re-introducing Franska in the wild, in areas that were just not appropriate," said Azavant, adding that the bear had exhibited "unusual behaviour" with her killer instincts.

Last week, more than 100 farmers held a protest in front of the governor's offices in the southwest town of Tarbes, dropping the carcasses of seven sheep that they said were killed by Franska a few days earlier.

"The entire population is living in fear" of the bear, said Christian Puyo, the head of the local farmers' union.

"Even people who used to go pick mushrooms are afraid and staying home," said Gilbert Verdier, the mayor of the town of Generest where farmers this month took up arms and began policing the hills, firing shots in the air to chase away the bear.

Verdier said the intention was to frighten Franska away with the gunshot noise, stressing that farmers do not plan to take matters into their own hands and kill her.

Animal rights activists say Franska is no killer and have advised the farmers to get sheep dogs or shepherds to protect their flock.

"You can't hold it against a bear if it goes after food made readily available without protection," said the Land of the Bear organisation which has been joined by WWF France and two other groups in its campaign to save Franska.

The bear supporters accuse the farmers of exaggerating the threat posed by Franska and argue that storms and disease are responsible for more deaths among livestock than bear attacks.

Faced with such hullabaloo, the governor of the Midi-Pyrenees region, Jean-Francois Carenco, announced last week that Franska would be captured and moved higher up in the Pyrenees where she will be less of a nuisance.

But the farmers say they want her to be removed from the mountains altogether and have written to President Nicolas Sarkozy to intervene.

"This is useless," said Puyo of the plan, adding that Franska is sure to return to the lower Pyrenees. "Her stomach will remember where to go," he said.

The state secretary for ecology, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, plans to meet with the farmers next week to try to resolve the dispute.

Weighing 110 kilos (243 pounds), six-year-old Franska was the second brown bear from Slovenia let loose in the Pyrenees under the programme aimed at halting the decline of the bear population.

The four females and one male joined the 14 to 18 brown bears -- all that is left of the hundreds that roamed the mountains only a century ago.

Opposition to the bears has been fierce throughout the programme.

A month after Franska joined fellow female Palouma in the Pyrenees, authorities found honey-laced glass shards in the mountains planted by anti-bear activists.

Palouma died in August last year after falling from a cliff, prompting farmers to complain that the Slovenian bears were ill-adapted to the rocky landscape of the Pyrenees and better suited to the forests.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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