August 27, 2006

Bear released in Pyrenees dies in fall

PARIS (Reuters) - A Slovenian brown bear, one of five
released in the French Pyrenees earlier this year, has been
found dead at the foot of a cliff after an apparent accident,
authorities said on Sunday.

The animals were let loose under a pan-European programme
designed to help species in danger of extinction. The dead
bear, named Palouma, was the first of the group to be released
in the mountain range stradding the border between France and

Farmers who feared the bears might attack their livestock
protested against the plan, and some even threatened to hunt
them down.

"The first inquiries by the police point to accidental
death," France's ecology ministry said in a statement, adding
that there would be an investigation into the cause of death.

Farmers' representatives said the accident showed Slovenian
bears were ill adapted to the rocky landscape of the Pyrenees.

"This proves that bears from Slovenia, which are used to
live in forests, cannot adapt to our hilly landscapes. By
moving them, people in Paris have have disrupted their way of
life. This is not ecology any more," Stephane Lessieux, a local
sheep herder, told the newspaper Le Parisien Dimanche.

French Ecology Minister Nelly Ollin said bears regularly
died of such accidents, even in Slovenia.

"Accidents are rare but they exist. We estimate that 10
percent of bears (in the wild) die each year and accidents are
among the main factors ..." a ministry spokeswoman told

The conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature estimates
that bears are responsible for the deaths of less than one
percent of sheep that die each year in the Pyrenees.

Before the five bears were released, there were thought to
be 14 to 18 brown bears left in the region, few of them female.

Slovenia, on the other hand, has one of the largest bear
populations in Europe with around 550 bears in the wild.