Spanish farmers up in arms over hungry bears
Animals reintroduced into wild blamed for attacks on sheep
European brown bear foraging in Alpine pasture in the Pyrenees. French representatives met with Spanish experts on Friday to discuss biodiversity issues in the Pyrenees including the challenges presented by the brown bear. Photograph: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images
Brown bears reintroduced into the wild have been attacking livestock in the Pyrenees, enraging local farmers and prompting consultations between Spanish and French authorities.
Last October, France freed two female brown bears originally from Slovenia in the mountainous area bordering Spain, in a bid to boost the population of the species. In total, there are now four brown bears believed to be inhabiting the central Pyrenees, although they tend to roam back and forth across the border and into surrounding regions. Previously, several bears were reintroduced into the wild elsewhere and another 40 or so animals inhabit the eastern Pyrenees, with about 300 more living in other parts of northern Spain.
One of the Slovenian animals introduced last autumn, known as Claverina, is already being blamed for the deaths of eight sheep in Spain’s Navarre region and is believed to have killed another animal in France.
“Despite being a Pyrenean farmer, nobody consulted me about the [reintroduction] measure,” said Gonzalo Palacios, from the Salazar valley in Navarre where some of the attacks have taken place. “Suddenly an aggressive animal is roaming our pastures which has already attacked our livestock several times.”
He added: “Now it’s bears, but let’s hope they don’t reintroduce wolves here.”
French farmers protested against the reintroduction of the bears last year. The regional government of Navarre also expressed concern at France’s decision to free the Slovenian bears and it has responded with several measures, including electric fences, sheep sensors, patrolling dogs and extra shepherds.
Another Slovenian bear, called Goiat, has also become known for its habit of attacking livestock further east, in the Catalan Pyrenees, since being freed there in 2016.
On Friday, French representatives met in Madrid with Spanish experts from the regions of Navarre, Catalonia and Aragón, to discuss a range of biodiversity issues in the Pyrenees, including the challenges presented by the brown bear.
“It’s clear that this means a change in the quality of life for farmers, but right now co-operation is needed between all the authorities involved,” Eva García Balaguer, of the Navarre government, told El País newspaper.
Conservationists insist that the attacks are not due to increased aggressiveness on the part of the bears. “The problem is that the livestock are not protected,” Guillermo Palomero, of Spain’s Brown Bear Association (FOP), said.
During the spring, when the weather is warmer, flocks of sheep tend to roam more freely, making them more vulnerable to attacks.
Local authorities monitor Spain’s brown bear population closely to help ensure numbers do not drop. Earlier this month, one bear died while being treated in a veterinary centre in the province of León after it was found badly injured, apparently from a fight with another bear.