Toulouse (France) (AFP)
Protesters held rival protests in southwest France over the death of a brown bear in the Pyrenees on Saturday last month.
The rallies took place as tensions rose between animal rights activists and farmers who want their livestock to be protected from animals.
Nearly 2,000 agricultural unionists, farmers, breeders, elected officials and hunters gathered at the Etang de Lers, a place of beauty in the region’s national park.
They were calling for an end to the release of bears in the area, which they said posed a serious threat to livestock.
In the southwest city of Toulouse, about 150 people, supported by 14,000 petitioners, gathered to call investigators to find and prosecute the bear killer. This is the second death found this year in the Pyrenees, where it is a protected species.
The protesters also demanded the replacement of the bear to ensure the survival of the species.
The brown bear has been reintroduced into the Pyrenees since its extinction in the 1990s, with animals imported from Slovenia.
The four-year-old bear killed last month was discovered on June 9 near a ski resort by officials investigating complaints from local farmers over the death of sheep.
The bear, which weighed 150 to 200 kilograms (330 to 440 pounds), died of gunshot wounds.
The state filed a lawsuit while the animal rights group Sea Shepherd offered a 45,000 euro reward for information on those responsible.
The murder of a protected species is punishable by three years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros ($ 170,000).
– “Every animal counts” –
“We must find the culprits, so that the case is not dismissed,” said Alain Marek, regional delegate for the country’s Association for the Protection of Wild Animals.
Alain Reynes, an organizer of the Toulouse demonstration, said that the state must respect its commitment to protect the species under national and European conservation rules.
“It is essential to replace the killed animal,” he told protesters at the rally. “Every animal counts. ”
France had frozen its reintroduction program in January, citing “a favorable dynamic of the bear population”, with around fifty registered in the Pyrenees.
Farmers, meanwhile, have called for an end to the release of bears after an upsurge in livestock killings since last summer. In the Ariège region alone, the authorities registered 565 claims for more than 1,100 sheep dead or injured during the first half of the year.
The Occitania regional prefect has reserved this year some 10 million euros for a fund set up to promote peaceful coexistence between breeders and bears.
© 2020 AFP