Dispute over sheep killing by bears
Pro and anti bear groups are at loggerheads again in the Pyrenees over whether or not to reintroduce more bears.
After years of inactivity by the French authorities, wild animal lovers are calling for two new female bears to be introduced to keep numbers up, citing figures showing dropping numbers of bear attacks on livestock – the main bone of contention surrounding efforts to maintain the population. Bears were reintroduced to the Pyrenees from Slovenia about 20 years ago.
A study by the Pays de l’Ours association shows that putting in place methods to protect flocks has seen bear attacks drop by 92% while at the same time the bear population has been increasing due to births.
Official figures from the Dreal environmental agency covering the area also show a notable drop in 2015. A total 145 sheep deaths were blamed on bears and compensated.
Out of this figure, which is the lowest since records have been kept, 105 of the deaths were in the summer pastures of Ariège, the rest in the Béarn area or Haute-Pyrénées.
However opponents from the association ASAP-Ariège have criticised the alleged effectiveness of protective measures in view of the fact that, they say, all of the (ten) ‘protected’ summer pastures in Ariège, which is on the Spanish border, suffered bear attacks this year.
This was despite measures like use of patou guard dogs, electric fences, putting the sheep in fenced-off enclosures at night, hiring extra shepherds to be on guard, installing little cabins etc.
The association said in a statement the attacks traumatise shepherds and harm sheep farmers’ productivity and that protective measures have not made for a ‘significant drop in predation’; on the contrary it says sometimes once a bear breaks in the protective measures can make things worse. “The data all shows that no kind of protection is dissuasive when a bear has decided to attack.”
Last year Spanish authorities decided to release a new Slovenian male to help avoid problems of interbreeding among the bears, whose population in the Pyrenees only numbers about 30.