French farmers fume at Pyrenees bear boost

14th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

SALIES-DE-BEARN, France, Jan 14 (AFP) - France is to introduce more bears in the craggy Pyrenees which form the border with Spain, but while ecologists are jubilant, the farmers are furious - lamb is a favourite bear meal.

SALIES-DE-BEARN, France, Jan 14 (AFP) - France is to introduce more bears in the craggy Pyrenees which form the border with Spain, but while ecologists are jubilant, the farmers are furious - lamb is a favourite bear meal.

Environment Minister Serge Lepeltier announced Thursday the government would release five bears in the mountains this year to add to the threatened population of 14 to 18 after a hunter killed Cannelle (Cinammon), the last native Pyrenees female bear, in November.

She left a young male orphan cub which is now believed to be hibernating and her death raised a storm of emotion throughout France.

"I've decided to double the number of bears in the Pyrenees over three years," Lepeltier told France 2 television, saying the number would be increased to 30 by the end of 2007.

Those figures were higher than expected, based on ensuring the survival of the bears while avoiding in-breeding.

The farmers' reaction was immediate. They accused the government of pandering - for electoral reasons - to the 80 percent of French people reported to favour the introduction, and said plans to protect the flocks by providing guard-dogs and fences would not work.

"It's worse than we expected," said Jean-Marc Prim, a sheepfarmers' representative.

"That was a political decision ... the 10,000 farmers in the mountains don't count against media pressure."

The new bears, all females, will probably come from Slovenia or Croatia, but Bernard Sarailler, mayor of the Pyrenees village of Cette-Eygun, warned that "an animal that has been fed does not have the same habits as one living in the wild ... I fear this will boomerang against human beings."

Many people in southwest France are avid hunters and fear the establishment of protected zones to safeguard the bears will reduce the terrain available to hunters.

But Gerard Caussimont, who heads a pro-bear lobby, was delighted by the minister's announcement.

"At last," he said, "the state is undertaking a real policy of restoring brown bears."

He said that last year, out of 50,000 sheep which spent the summer high in the mountains, the state reimbursed farmers for the killing of 30 ewes, "of which a third were doubtful".

The Ferus association, working for "cohabitation" between predators and farmers, said the introduction "is going in the right direction", but that the bear population needed to be brought up to 50 to be self-sustaining.

Lepeltier, in an interview with the Sud Ouest newspaper, said any bear that became dangerous would be transferred to another zone, or to a nature park, and that compensation would continue to be paid to farmers whose sheep were killed.

The hunter who killed Cannelle while hunting wild boar, 68-year-old Rene Marquez, was widely vilified, and spent some time in hospital for depression.

He has been charged with killing a protected species, but is an experienced hunter and says he fired in self-defence when the 80 to 100-kilogram (175 to 220-pound) bear charged him.

© AFP

Subject: French News

 

 

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