More than 200 sheep have died after they hurtled over the edge of a cliff in the Pyrenees mountains while being chased by a bear.
Their deaths have reignited the bitter debate over the presence of bears in the mountain range that straddles the French-Spanish border, where they were reintroduced 20 years ago after disappearing in the early 1990s.
The sheep belonged to a farmer in the Couflens area on the French side of the border, but their bodies were found last Sunday at the foot of a cliff just over the border in Spain.
The rest of the large flock was missing after dispersing over the mountains while fleeing the attack.
Local authorities sent experts to examine the scene during the week and they concluded that the sheep had been running away from a bear.
The sheep’s owner will be compensated for each of the 209 animals found dead, which is standard practice in such cases as part of the deal made between the government and farmers when brown bears from Slovenia were introduced in the late 1990s.
But the deaths provoked an angry statement from the militant Confédération Paysanne (Farmers’ Federation) which demanded immediate action to stop deadly attacks by bears on livestock.
“Pastoralism, which is a guarantor of biodiversity and of a living and welcoming mountain region, is not compatible with the reintroduction of large predators,” it said in a statement.
“The state, which is responsible for the reintroduction of the bears, should remove the ones that are causing problems and should not reintroduce any more bears,” it said.
The verbal protest was the latest battle in the long-running war between livestock farmers and animal conservationists who believe bears have their rightful pace in the mountain range.
A similar battle is going on over the growing presence of wolves in France.
On Thursday the government gave the green light for the cull of dozens of wolves in mountain areas, mostly in the southeast, where they have killed around 8,000 farm animals, mostly sheep, over the past year.
The cull of up to 40 wolves by July next year represents a little over 10 percent of France’s total wolf population.