In an effort to bolster dwindling numbers of bears after they were hunted to the point of extinction in the mid-1990s, French authorities have released a brown bear in the Pyrenees. Local sheep farmers are furious.
A female brown bear from Slovenia has been released near Etsaut in the French Pyrenees in an attempt to restore biodiversity to the area.
The move was met with fierce all-night protests by local farmers who blocked roads on which they had painted the words, "It's war," and inspected trucks possibly transporting the animal. The farmers say the bear could pose a risk to their livestock.
French Environment Minister Francois de Rugy was defiant in the face of the protests on Thursday, saying the farmers' attitude was "unacceptable." He condemned people "who feel entitled to set up roadblocks and threaten me with guns." The Environment Ministry said a second female bear from Slovenia would be introduced in the next few days.
France began importing bears from Slovenia in 1996 when local populations were close to extinction due to hunting. Some 40 brown bears are thought to inhabit the region between France and Spain, though currently only two males live in the area where the female was released. The last indigenous female bear in the area was killed by a hunter in 2004.
Although the French government offers compensation for loss of livestock, farmers remain vehemently opposed to the authorities' efforts. The farmers say bear attacks have doubled in the area, and they claim 230 have taken place this year, with farmers losing some 372 animals.
Government figures show farmers in the region were compensated for the loss of 798 animals and 25 beehives that were damaged, destroyed or killed by bears in 2017.
Media reports say the bear was released from a cage that was flown in by helicopter to avoid a confrontation with the farmers.
js/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa)