Protests as bear is freed in French Pyrenees

26th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

ARBAS, France, April 26, 2006 (AFP) - The first of five brown bears to be released in the French Pyrenees was finally given its freedom late Tuesday, after protestors clashed with police in a bid to stop the operation.

ARBAS, France, April 26, 2006 (AFP) - The first of five brown bears to be released in the French Pyrenees was finally given its freedom late Tuesday, after protestors clashed with police in a bid to stop the operation.

The female bear, which had been captured in Slovenia, "was in good shape and ran into the forest" after being released from a special truck, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Earlier Ecology Minister Nellie Olin said several people had been arrested around the village of Arbas, where demonstrators earlier this month went on a wrecking spree against the plan to import the animals.

They claim the animals, which will join up to 18 others already roving the region, will pose a threat to hikers and shepherds and create havoc among cattle and sheep.

Supporters of the bears say they will attract tourists and the damage they cause to livestock is minimal.

Dozens of protestors Tuesday greeted the arrival of the first bear, named Palouma after a local word both for a dove-cote and a range of mountains, with shouts, bells and fireworks.

Others had earlier tried to block the truck by lying down on a bridge before being ousted by police.

"I am ashamed of this unworthy demonstration, of these people who behave like asses, like imbeciles," Olin said, before the vehicle drove off to a nearby district of Burgalays where the bear was finally freed.

"We will not abandon our plan to add to the bear population."

The project has split local officials -- while Arbas mayor Francois Arcangeli, who saw his town hall stoned on April 1, is in favour of it, fellow socialist member of parliament Augustin Bonrepaux was among the protestors.

Palouma, aged between four and five and caught in southern Slovenia 24 hours before, was brought in a specially-designed container equipped with a camera, water supply and air-conditioning."

It was marked with an ear tag and given a special radio collar that will regularly transmit information on the animal's position and condition via satellite over the next two or three years.

When its battery runs flat, the collar drops off automatically.

The Slovenian government signed an agreement with France last September to send the five bears to the Pyrenees between April and August. The first three will be females.

The only indigenous Pyrenean bears left are all males. The shooting by a hunter of the last surviving female provoked fury among environmentalists and led to a promise by the government to double the bear population in the Pyrenees in the next three years.

Olin said last year that the government would set up mechanisms to monitor the effects of the project and introduce measures to protect and help farmers.

Some of the bears already in the Pyrenees straddling the frontier between France and Spain were brought in from Slovenia in 1996 and 1997.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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