Spain and France call urgent meeting to decide fate of sheep-killing Pyrenees bear

A female bear airlifted to the French Pyrenees a few months ago to bolster the local bear population has wandered into Spain’s Navarre and killed eight sheep.

Spain and France call urgent meeting to decide fate of sheep-killing Pyrenees bear
Photo: Deposit Photos

Disgruntled farmers in Spain’s northern Navarre region have forced Spanish and French authorities to call an urgent meeting to decide what can be done about Claverina, one of two Slovenian bears brought to the countries’ shared Pyrenees mountain range in October 2018. 

The female bear is believed to be behind the killing of one sheep in France and eight in the Navarre valleys of Roncar and Salazar.

Representatives from Aragón and Catalonia, two other Spanish regions with small bear populations, will join Navarre and French authorities on Friday at an emergency summit at the Ministry of Environmental Transition.

The arrival of the carnivore mammals in October had already been criticised by local livestock farmers on both sides of the border, fearful that their flocks would add more zeros to a bear death count already in the hundreds, but still not as high as that for wolves.

“We’ll push the bears out, scare them, make them run away,” one farmer told reporters back then, accusing Spanish and French authorities of turning a blind eye to their concerns.

Similar efforts to curb sheep killings by bears include the “re-education” of Goiat, a male that was also brought over from Slovenia and that has killed several sheep in Catalonia.

Although environmental authorities haven’t disclosed what the retraining of the animal would entail, as well as having to wait for it to wake up from its hibernation period, the process would involve assessing Goiat’s danger levels.

If experts agreed that it was too aggressive for anything to be done, the bear would be removed, the first one to be expelled from the Pyrenees since the launch of the EU’s bear repopulation project Pyroslife 2015-2018.

“The problem isn’t the bears themselves but rather their coexistence with human activities,” Ferran Miralles, head of Catalonia’s Environment department, told Spanish daily El País.

“We are the ones that have to learn to live with the bear.”

Spain’s bear population currently stands at around 300, all located in Spain’s northern mountain regions.

There are 250 in Asturias and parts of León, 40 around Palencia, 40 in Lleida in Catalonia and 4 roaming around Aragon’s Huesca province and Navarre, two of which are the bears that crossed over from France in recent months.

The same debate is raging in neighbouring France, as this video report by The Local France explains.


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France’s wolf population rises once again

France's wild wolf population rose again last year, with officials counting 580 adults at winter's end compared with an average of 530 a year ago, France's OFB biodiversity agency said Tuesday.

France's wolf population rises once again
A woman holds an image of a wolf as people take part in a demonstration of several wildlife conservation associations, to protest against the hunting of wolves. AFP

The government has been allowing grey wolves to multiply despite fierce resistance from livestock owners, who say they are suffering from increased attacks on their flocks.

But this winter's increase was slower than the 23 percent jump seen the previous year, and “survival rates declined,” the OFB said, adding that the causes remained unknown.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in France by the 1930s, but gradually started reappearing in the 1990s as populations spread across the Alps from Italy.

Their numbers have grown rapidly in recent years, prompting authorities to allow annual culls to keep their numbers in check, though the predator remains a protected species.

READ ALSO: Where in France will you find wolves?

Under a “Wolf Plan” adopted in 2018, the “viability threshold” of 500 animals, the level at which the population is likely to avoid becoming at risk of extinction over a 100-year period, was not expected to be reached until 2023.

Wolves are increasingly spotted across French territory, from the Pyrenees mountains as far north as the Atlantic coastal regions near Dieppe.

But “there are still no packs formed outside the Alps and Jura,” the heavily forested region near the Swiss border, the agency said.

The numbers are far below those found in Italy, Romania or Poland, but they have nonetheless infuriated French farmers who say the wolves are decimating their flocks.

Last year, authorities registered 3,741 wolf attacks that led to the deaths of nearly 12,500 animals, mainly sheep.

The government offers compensation for the losses and has set up a range of measures to protect flocks, including patrols by “wolf brigades” in areas where traditional anti-wolf measures, such as dogs, fenced-off areas and 
additional shepherding, have failed.

That has not been enough to assuage the powerful FNSEA agriculture lobby and other groups, which say they have to wait too long for compensation payments in the face of repeated attacks on their livelihood.