French mayor bans mountain walks after bear attacks

The mayor of a commune in southwestern France announced the ban after a number of bear attacks on local livestock.

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According to Alain Servat, the mayor of the commune Ustou, “every evening herds of sheep are attacked. We are up to 80 ewes recognised as having been attacked by predators,” newspaper 20 minutes reported him as saying.

Four brown bears - a female, her two cubs, and an adult bear - attacked a herd of sheep near the ski resort Guzet-Neige, in the French Pyrénées earlier in this week (July 15).

Three agents from the National Biodiversity Office (OFB) were on site and they tried to scare off the four bears, "with great difficulty", local newspaper La Depeche reported.

The Ariège prefecture has asked the French biodiversity office to initiate the "problem bear" procedure. Reinforcements (support shepherds), agents of the OFB, will be deployed from now on in the area.

Citing a threat to people, Mr Servat has now banned hiking in the Ustou area, which overlooks Cirque de Cagateille, a popular destination for walkers in the summer season.

Bear attacks on livestock are an increasingly common problem in the French Pyrénées. According to European Wilderness Society, a pan-European environmental advocacy and non-governmental organisation, the number of bear attacks increased from a total of 164 in 2018, to 214 in 2019.

The NGO’s website states that local residents and environmentalists in the Pyrénées region have been arguing about bears for years.

“The government recognises bears as one of the crucial species to preserve the biodiversity of the region. Therefore, French bears are strictly protected in the region, so no hunting is allowed,” the NGO reported.

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