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ENVIRONMENT

Bear chases flock of 209 sheep off a cliff to their death in Pyrenees

A bear is being blamed for the deaths of an entire flock of sheep which were found at the base of a cliff in the Pyrenees near the border between France and Spain.

Bear chases flock of 209 sheep off a cliff to their death in Pyrenees
Around 35 brown bears live in the Pyrenees. Photo: AFP

Experts believe that the bear targeted one of the sheep sparking panic among the flock sending the animals hurtling over a cliff to their death 200 meters below, in a gorge outside the village of Lladorre in Catalonia.

An investigation concluded that a bear was to blame after analyzing hair found on one of the sheep, which belonged to a farmer in Couflens, southwestern France.

The incident has provoked an angry response from farmers in the region and renewed debate over the reintroduction of bears to the Pyrenees.

“Pastoralism, which is a guarantor of biodiversity and of a living and welcoming mountain region, is not compatible with the reintroduction of large predators,” said the French Confédération Paysanne (Farmers’ Federation) in a statement.

“The state, which is responsible for the reintroduction of the bears, should remove the ones that are causing problems and should not reintroduce any more bears,” it said.

Native Pyrenean brown bears were almost extinct in the 1990s due largely to hunting and the first attempt to re-introduce them was in 1996-97 when three bears – two females and a male named Pyros – were brought from Slovenia.

There are now believed to be 35 brown bears on both sides of the Pyrenees mountain range which straddles the Spanish-French border, the majority of them the offspring of Pyros who is now 26-years-old and showing signs of ageing.

Last year, a new male from Slovenia was been released in Spain's northern Pyrenees mountains as part of a programme to ensure the species' survival.

Named Goiat, the ten-year-old was ruled out as being responsible for the latest attack after authorities confirmed that his tracking device showed in was not in the area at the time.

READ MORE: Protected brown bear found shot in northern Spain

CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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