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Debate over Pyrenean bears leads to death threats

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Debate over Pyrenean bears leads to death threats
10:57 CEST+02:00
A row between locals and wildlife agents over bears living in the Pyrenean mountains has escalated as farmers blame the wild animals for attacks on their sheep.
And while the debate over whether there should be bears in the area isn't a new one, recent incidents leading to the deaths of hundreds of sheep have breathed fresh life into a decades-old argument.
 
On Saturday, dozens of farmers met in Saint-Girons to protest against the bears, handing out pamphlets and blocking access to the town. 
 
This followed violent scenes the night before when four agents from France's national office for hunting and wildlife (ONCSF), charged with producing an assessment on the incidents linked to the bears near Auzat, were challenged by the farmers. 
 
The farmers threatened to kill the agents, according to the Ariege authorities, and gun shots were fired. 
 
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Andrew Nicholson/Flickr
 
Minister for ecological transition, Nicolas Hulot, was quick to condemn the incident but, according to elected officials in Ariege, it was "predictable" that the situation would escalate. 
 
Indeed local representatives have officially requested the French state to remove the bear population, estimated at 39. 
 
In a press release, the officials said that the animals, re-introduced to the area in 1996, should be sent back to their native Slovenia.
 
Earlier in August, the first of several incidents involving bears this summer, which led to 209 sheep tumbling off a hill after being scared by a bear in the mountainous area, was reported in The Local. 
 
But for the pro-bear camp, the animals are not entirely to blame for the decline in the sheep population. 
 
Out of 570,000 sheep in the Pyrénées, 18,000-30,000 die from falls, in storms and from illnesses.  
 
Yet no bears have been reintroduced to the region since 2006, with successive governments avoiding the issue. 
 
French farmers are often at loggerheads with conservationists over the presence of wild animals that threaten their stock, with anti-bear groups existing since the population was first re-introduced to the area. 
 
In 2016, The Local reported on a protest involving dozens of French farmers against the presence of bears in the Pyrenees mountains, after a flock of 125 sheep took fright and fell to their death in a ravine.
 
And in 2014, farmers brought some 300 sheep to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to demand the right to cull more wolves than is currently allowed. A separate protest in 2008, this time against a perceived lack of support from the agriculture ministry, also saw sheep flocking around the famed tourist attraction (see below). 
 
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