A lone brown bear is being blamed for a horrifying incident in which 209 panicked sheep plunged off a cliff in the Pyrenees near the border between France and Spain. It isn’t the first time this has happened, and local farmers are pissed that brown bears are being reintroduced to the pastoral, mountain region.
As reported in The Guardian, the sheep belonged to a farmer in Couflens, France, near the Spanish border. The incident happened over the weekend when a bear attacked one of the sheep, sending the entire flock into a panicked frenzy. Over 200 sheep plunged off a 200m cliff in an attempt to flee the predator. The bodies were found the next day at the foot of the cliff near the Spanish village or Lladorre.
The French government said it will compensate the farmer, but the local branch of the French farmers’ federation, the Confédération Paysanne de l’Ariège, is thoroughly unimpressed. “Pastoralism — which protects biodiversity and keeps the mountains alive — is not compatible with the reintroduction of large predators,” it said in a statement.
Brown bears were all but wiped out in the Pyrenees in the 1990s, and the French government has been trying to reintroduce the animals to the region ever since. Some 30 brown bears now make this picturesque mountainous region their home, much to the chagrin of some farmers and locals. This resettling project is an effort to restore the iconic animal to the region and boost biodiversity, but despite protective efforts, around 300 sheep are killed each year from bear attacks, according to France’s Office of Hunting and Wildlife. For context, of the half million sheep living in the French Pyrenees, about 15,000 die each year from natural causes such as disease, bad weather and falls. Sheep are also preyed upon by dogs, who may be responsible for many more sheep deaths than bears.
Last year, a similar incident occurred in the French Pyrenees, resulting in the death of 130 sheep. Sadly, this is something that happens to sheep that graze near cliffs. These are simple animals who blindly follow the members ahead of them, often to their own peril. Back in 2005, more than 400 sheep died in Turkey when a large flock plunged off a 15m cliff. Bizarrely, the bodies of those dead sheep cushioned the fall of the 1100 others who followed.