Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Bear Facts

At the time of year that sees bears waking from the winter hibernation, the annual report by the Bear Team of the Hunting and Wildlife Commission has been published. The report published in early April, states that 19 bears were identified in the Pyrenees in 2010. 17 were to be found on the French side of the chain - the others in Spain. 4 of the 19 are bear cubs.The brown bear can only be found in France in the Pyrenees.

Where the Brown Bear Was Located in the Pyrenees in 2010

The authors of the report state that 19 is a minimum. There are at least 19 bears because other bears present may not have been detected. It is very difficult to accurately determine the number of bears. Actual sightings are rare. Other indications that bears are present are droppings, footprints, tree scratching, animal kills and damage to bee hives.
By 1995 the brown bear population was down to 5. Worried about the complete disappearance of the animal from France, bears were reintroduced from Slovenia in 1996 (2 females) and in 1997 (1 male). Melba, one of the reintroduced bears, was killed in 1997 and Cannelle, the last female brown bear of Pyrenean origin, killed in 2004, both shot by hunters. Despite this, by 2005 the brown bear population had grown to 15. Still not considered viable, numbers were again augmented in 2006 by animals from Slovenia.  4 new females (Palouma, Franska, Hvala and Sarousse) and a male (Balou) were released.  Two of the four introduced females have died. One fell from a cliff in a freak accident, the other (Franska) was killed by a car on a busy stretch of road (the autopsy revealing evidence that she had been shot at.) Other females have given birth to cubs.
The reintroduction of bears has led to a heated debate between the pro (e.g.Pays de l'Ours-Adet; Ferus) and anti bear factions
The pro bear groups are waiting impatiently for more reintroductions to replace the bears that have been killed since 2006.
Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.
In July 2010, the government gave the go ahead for the reintroduction of another female bear to help keep the bear population viable but the Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has yet to give any further details.
Anti Bear Graffito. If the bears come, the farmers will disapear.

The anti bear groups, made up mainly by shepherds, who fear damage to flocks from attacks by bears, do not want any more bears reintroduced. For them, the use of high mountain pastures during the summer months by their sheep, goats and cattle (transhumance) is incompatible with a growing bear population. According to them,  farming in the mountains is already unattractive financially. Increased loss of stock to bear attacks further reduces profitability and will lead to more farmers leaving the land.

200-300 sheep are killed by bears  each year. The pro bear lobby counters with the fact that wild dogs kill more animals. They also state that farmers are compensated by the government financially for every animal lost in a bear attack. There is also money to pay for farmers to have guard dogs - the formidable Patou mountain dog -  to help protect flocks and herds.

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