BALOU the bear, who was released into the wild in the Pyrénées in 2006, has died, the prefecture of Haute-Garonne has revealed.
The brown bear, who was four years old when he came to France from Slovenia, had become something of a celebrity during his seven years roaming the mountains, and was filmed many times.
His body was found on Monday, near Melles. It is thought he died a few days earlier.
Bear protection group Ferus immediately called on ecology minister Ségolène Royal to order an “immediate replacement” for Balou.
The group demanded that bears be given protected species status, arguing that the bear population in the Pyrénées is not safe.
The association said that "the Italians have reintroduced nine bears in Trentino (north-east Italy)" and that "when one female died in an avalanche, the Italian government immediately replaced her".
Preliminary findings lead experts to believe he died of injuries sustained in a fall, but a post-mortem examination has been ordered to determine the cause of death.
In September 2008, Balou was wounded by a boar hunter, near Prades in Ariege. Two years later, in May 2010, Balou famously came down from the mountains to venture into the Aude, about 30km from the beaches of Narbonne, presumably looking for a female.
France’s indigenous brown bear population was effectively wiped out in the 1990s, but a programme which introduced bears from Slovenia meant that, in 2012, at least 22 individual bears were living in the mountains on the Franco-Spanish border.
Meanwhile, Le Monde has reported that the wolf population in France has risen above 300, and is now a permanent inhabitant of 38 departments, seven more than the winter of 2012/13.
Wolves have also been spotted in Gers, Lot, Cantal, Puy-de-Dôme and Cote d'Or, but it is not thought they have established permanent homes there.