A farmer from Couflens in the south-west region of France lost a flock of more than 200 sheep after they tried to escape a brown bear.
It appears that the bulk of the flock fell off a cliff on the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees Mountains while trying to escape. According to the Guardian, 169 sheep were found on July 17 at the bottom of the cliff.
Losing sheep to large predators in the region is not uncommon. Wolves are also a cause of livestock loss for farmers, in addition to bad weather and the rugged terrain.
Native Pyrenees brown bears almost reached extinction in the early 1990s. It was then that the French Government decided to intervene with support from the World Wildlife Fund project run by the European Union.
The Government reintroduced three bears chosen from Slovenian populations from 1995 to 1996, according to the Smithsonian. More bears have been introduced since then, and with some success. The Connexion reported sightings of 39 bears in the Pyrenees in 2016. Ten of these were new cubs. However, experts have previously told Global Talent News that a minimum of 80-100 bears are needed before the bears can become a self-sustaining population.
There is a long-standing difference of opinion in France between farmers and conservationists surrounding the effects of bear reintroduction.
“It’s a war between farmers and bears,” Robert Wojciechowski said to the Telegraph back in May 2009 regarding the government’s ongoing support of the currently unsustainable bear population. “[There are] city people who like to think there are bears here, and country people who don’t want them.”
Wojciechowski ran a business selling bear deterrent fencing and lighting to farmers at the time.
Though the EU and French Government have promised to compensate farmers for any livestock lost from bear attacks, the issue remains highly contentious.
“For us farmers it’s not about compensation,” said Olivier Maurin, who farms 200 sheep to produce cheese in the Pyrenees. “It’s changing our way of life, our way of farming. I know we get EU subsidies to farm but we would have to get much more money before we accept bears here.
Local politicians support the farmers’ bid to protect their way of life, while the French government support conservationists’ hopes to restore the bears, saying the bear should be present in France, according to the Guardian.
The first record of brown bears in Europe date back 250,000 years, said the Guardian report. The species—Ursus arctos—originated from China about 600,000 years ago, and spread to Europe as well as North America where they are known as grizzly bears.
From NTD Television