The bear, a male about four or five years old, was the second brown bear found dead this year in the Pyrenees mountains, according to Chantal Mauchet, a local official of the Ariege department of southwest France.
Bears are a protected species in the Pyrenees.
“Everything possible is being done to identify the perpetrator or perpetrators,” Laurent Dumaine, the prosecutor of the commune of Foix, told journalists. The autopsy was performed at the veterinary school in Toulouse, the nearest big city.
An investigation has been opened for “unauthorised destruction of a protected species,” said Dumaine. The crime is punishable by three years in jail and a €150,000 fine.
The bear – which was not wearing a tracking collar – was discovered Tuesday near a ski station close to the Spanish border by biodiversity officials investigating complaints from local farmers about sheep killings.
It was evacuated by helicopter.
The state and animal activists said they would pursue criminal charges.
“A bear was discovered shot dead,” Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne wrote on Twitter and posted harrowing pictures of the dead animal.
“Bears are a protected species, this act is illegal and strongly condemned. The state will file a complaint,” she said.
Close to extinction in the early 1990s, the brown bear was reintroduced to the Pyrenees in the early 1990s, with animals brought in from Slovenia.
There are about 50 of them today, but their presence has caused tension with livestock farmers.
The other bear found dead in the Pyrenees this year, a male called Cachou, had been accused of several livestock killings. The cause of its death has not been divulged.
Animal rights defenders said the latest slaying was an act “by radical and violent bear opponents”.
But farmers say they are being left unprotected against the wild beasts.
“People have to be at their wits' end to commit illegal acts such as these,” said Philippe Lacube, who heads the Ariege agriculture chamber and leads the local anti-bear campaign.
“Their daily suffering is not being heard,” he insisted.
Farmers say there has been a surge in livestock killings since last summer, with 565 claims filed for over 1,100 dead or injured sheep in Ariege alone.
But experts point to the farmers' own failure to put in place protections such as shepherd dogs or electrified fences – the cost of which is 80 percent subsidised by the French government.
The state announced last week it would add €500,000 to a fund set up to promote peaceful cohabitation between farmers and bears.