Can sheep be protected from bears in the Pyrenees? No, says Éric Fournié

Cet article est également disponible en: French


My last article was based on Catherine Brunet’s book La bergère et l’ours [The shepherdess and the bears] in which she declares that the measures proposed by the State to protect sheep can work. Here, I reproduce interviews given by farmer Éric Fournié and his shepherd Gérard Pujol about their experiences in the mountains in the summer of 2017.*

Transcript of the interview with Éric Fournié and Gérard Pujol

For the last five years Éric Fournié has done everything the State has recommended to protect his sheep. This summer 223 went up to the estive [mountain pasture] at Arréou [near Seix, Ariège] and he thought that this year was going to be a good one.

Éric Fournié: “It should have been plain sailing. We had three patous [guard dogs] and two shepherds. We had all the tools to make it work. The previous year we had good results. There were 17 sheep missing and 5 killed. This year we have lost two patous. And in addition 60 sheep were killed and 47 missing. It’s too much.”

Eric has been doing his sums. For every ten sheep lost to bears, only four are officially recognized as having been killed, and hence reimbursed. As for the others: written off. For him it is unbearable; the State must start to take things in hand.

Éric Fournié: “We have had so many discussions with the authorities and have been told that bears adapt to the constraints, they just need training. But it isn’t up to us to do it, it is the State’s job. Even if guns are needed, the State… I don’t know, it must do something. When a bear attacks he gets rapped on the knuckles and he backs off. We are told: use dogs and you will make the bears back off. It’s not true.

And Gérard Pujol, one of the two full-time shepherds, confirms that on the estive the bears aren’t afraid of patous.

Gérard Pujol: “One morning when I get up I hear the patous. And then I realise that they have cornered an animal. What is it? A wild boar, a fox or what? I don’t know. Then I go to the sheep, I was 100m away. The patous had gone quiet. But there was a bear eating a sheep. The dogs barked. The following evening I didn’t hear anything, but the bear came back and took another one in the same place with the dogs looking on. Patous; they aren’t the answer.”

Éric and his shepherd are hoping for an new solution before next June when the sheep go back to the estive.



Sheep in the high Ariège

Sheep in the high Ariège


The Dépêche du Midi newspaper confirms the protective measures in place:

The Arréou estive has a reputation as a pilot scheme for protecting flocks from bears. Nevertheless it hasn’t been spared from attacks. It is half way through the summer season and they have already lost 12 sheep and two patous.

“Despite the presence of two shepherds 24 hours a day in huts near to where the sheep sleep and the three patous we have been attacked by a bear. The protective measures, despite what we are told, are not 100% effective,” explains Gérard Pujol.

“Our sheep are guinea pigs”

At the recent meeting on pastoralism in Foix, Éric Fournié said that he had lost 18 sheep over a cliff, frightened by one of the patous. “Our sheep are guinea pigs,” he complains.

Earlier accounts by Gérard Pujol and an anonymous sheep farmer on the same estive as Éric Fournié (May 2016).

In Catalonia, an article published by TV3 television relates a night-time attack on a flock guarded by patous.

15 September 2016. Twelve sheep die after a bear attacks a flock in the mountains above Boldís in Pallars Sobirà. Eight sheep died of suffocation and four from their injuries. The flock of a thousand sheep was in an enclosure around the shepherd’s hut for the night. The three patous were unable to intervene.

Nevertheless the number of recognized attacks in Catalonia has diminished dramatically in recent years.


My two articles, taking in both sides of the argument over the usefulness of protective measures, only cite a few examples of the many well-documented encounters of sheep, patous and bears. It is now up to the official commission of inquiry to determine if the different circumstances were a factor in the different outcomes and what this means for the future of sheep farming in the Pyrenees. It will have its work cut out for it.

* Update April 2019 : The results of the inquiry were published in a document entitled Propositions d’évolution des mesures d’accompagnement aux éleveurs confrontés à la prédation de l’ours et aux difficultés économiques du pastoralisme – Cas des Pyrénées centrales [Propositions for improving the help to be given to shepherds faced with bear predation and the economic difficulties of pastoralism – the case of the central Pyrenees]. It notes:

“The size of the flock is an important factor [in the effectiveness of regrouping the sheep at night]: this was seen to be the case when the inquiry visited the Arreau estive. There, with the same protection, the number of victims of predation increased significantly the following year when there was a very big increase in the size of the flock in the estive.” (p. 91)

According to another source, in 2016 – when Eric considered that the protective measures worked – there were 800 sheep and three dogs. In 2017 the number of sheep was doubled without increasing the protection. And in 2018, despite the experiences of 2017, the shepherds didn’t give up on guard dogs: they brought in Spanish mastiffs, which are reputed to be more aggressive.

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  1. […] Rewilding the Pyrenees: news about bears Can sheep be protected from bears in the Pyrenees? No, says Éric Fournié […]

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