Toulouse (France) (AFP)
The number of bears in the Pyrenees separating France and Spain rose to 64 last year, including 16 cubs, animal rights activists said Thursday, announcing the strong revival of a population threatened with extinction .
“This is a record – never had nine litters been detected in the Pyrenees since we started to study the bear population,” said the associations of the Pays de l’Ours and Adet et Ferus.
At the start of the 20th century, around 150 brown bears roamed the French Pyrenees along the Spanish border, but by the 1990s almost all of them had been killed by hunters.
France began to reintroduce them in 1996, with two women, Ziva and Melba, who first took up residence in the Pyrenees, followed a year later by a man.
Twenty-five years later, they are gone and multiplied – much to the dismay of sheep farmers in particular, who say predators are devastating their flocks.
The 64 bears identified by animal rights associations and the French Biodiversity Office (OFB) in 2020 are up compared to 58 in 2019.
Their foothold in the mountains is not yet certain – around 50 actively breeding bears, with sufficient genetic diversity, are needed for the population to be self-sufficient, the associations said.
This is the goal of the French government’s 10-year bear plan for 2028, although the government has yet to replace three bears killed last year, at least two of them by gunshot.
Farmers have made no secret of their anger at the reintroduction effort.
They blamed the bears for the losses of hundreds of sheep, some of which jumped off the cliffs to their deaths to avoid attacks, and complained that compensation programs failed to make up for their losses.
Violent protests have taken place, often with the support of local authorities, since the government resumed introductions of brown bears from Slovenia in 2018.
Supporters say, however, the threat to livestock is easing, with just 369 attacks attributed to bears last year and 636 animals killed or injured, up from nearly double that number (1,200) in 2019.
“The progress has been notable and proves the feasibility of this project, but additional efforts are needed,” the associations said.
© 2021 AFP