As part of a broader European program and in response to the concerns of conservationists, worried about the drop in the brown bear population in the Pyrenees due to shrinking habitats and indiscriminate hunting, the French government drew up a plan in in 1996 to release five Slovenian bears in the mountains with the intention of creating larger breeding population.
The program immediately met resistance from local farmers, who complained it was started by urban dwellers and argued that bringing the bears back into the region would threaten their livestock. At the time, angry protesters locked the pro-bear mayor of Arbas into the town hall and locals reported finding honey jars containing bits of broken glass scattered in the forest.
The plot thickened last Wednesday when angry farmers dumped six dead sheep in front of a Pyrenean town hall, claiming that many of the animals had been killed by an imported Slovenian bear called Franska. Local officials retorted that Franska, which wears a tracking collar, was not responsible for the deaths.
Environmentalists maintain that the wild bear population in the region of an estimated 20 specimens can cause any serious damage to sheep or cattle, while the French government says bears kill around 300 sheep and cattle a year in the region against 20,000 losses a year for other reasons. Last but not least, according to the WWF, the international conservation group, though brown bears have a carnivorous reputation, their diet is naturally about 80 percent vegetarian.
The Pyrenean farmers are expected to meet with local officials soon to discuss the bear reintroduction program.