Posts Tagged ‘sheep’

Not as peaceful as it seems

Saturday, July 13th, 2019
Port de Saleix, at 1800m above sea level on the GR10, looking east towards Saleix

Port de Saleix, at 1800m above sea level on the GR10 between Aulus and Marc, looking east

 

Two hours hard walking from the village of Saleix, Ariège, the rendezvous for the latest meeting of the anti-bear ASPAP was not an obvious choice. But as Philippe Lacube, one of the historic leaders of the movement and now President of the Ariège Chamber of Agriculture, explained:

“We could have gone to the streets of Foix or Toulouse. We preferred being in our mountains. We preferred being on our soil, at home; because, I think, it is this land we need to retake control of.”

These farmers, shepherds, mayors and supporters have had enough and believe the French state is not listening.

(more…)

Rewilding: with sheep, by hunters

Thursday, May 16th, 2019
Mouflon

Mouflon. The principal distinguishing characteristic of the male mouflon is its long, curved horns (in females the horns are absent or smaller) © Laurence Terminet

 

The sheep isn’t the first species that comes to mind when I think of ‘rewilding’. It seems unlikely that the idea of rewilding with sheep will warm George Monbiot’s heart 😉, given his views on the animal’s ecological hoofprint. But an ancient variety of sheep, the mouflon, present in the French Pyrenees in the Pleistocene, has been reintroduced: by hunters who were not in the least interested in the idea of rewilding. Indeed, they started the project in 1957 before the term ‘rewilding’ even existed. Yet, if there were more mouflons, they could become a food resource for the more charismatic brown bears and wolves currently preying on domestic flocks. Even shepherds – traditionally opponents of rewilding – might find some solace. (more…)

The once and future king?

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Bear cub [photo: DJO photo]

 

For anyone interested in the cultural side of rewilding, I can recommend Michel Pastoureau’s excellent book.[1] It charts the Western European perception of bears from the earliest records to the present. A renowned French historian, Pastoureau has written on heraldry, animals and, notably, on colours. But the strength of his book on bears is its focus on the how the animal fell from grace.

His thesis is that when the Christian Church started to expand into northern Europe, it found itself confronted with powerful pagan bear cults. The elimination of the cults took nearly a millennium, culminating in the 13th century when the king of the forest was symbolically replaced by the king of the jungle: the lion. (more…)

Humans and farm animals: the moral contract

Saturday, June 16th, 2018
Mouflon

Mouflon in the Massif Central

 

We are talking about sheep and bears in the Pyrenees when Alain Reynes, director of the pro-bear organization Pays de l’Ours tackles a broader concept.

“What is a domesticated animal?” he asks. It is a rhetorical question. “The sheep’s ancestor was the Asiatic mouflon. What happens is that you take a wild animal that is capable of living in natural surroundings. You domesticate it, increasing its productivity. But at the same time, you reduce its ability to live in the wild, to escape predators and resist diseases. The moral contract between the animal and humans is that we assure its food, take care of it when ill, and protect it. In exchange, the energy that the animal has saved from not having to escape from predators, not needing to fight diseases, and looking for food – all that energy – will be transferred to us humans in the form of meat, wool, or work. That’s the contract. When one has domesticated animals, which by their nature are under our protection, and one lets them loose on the mountains they can’t cope. They are very vulnerable. If we don’t protect them, we are breaking the contract.”

 

Sheep and lamb in the Pyrénées

Sheep and lamb in the Pyrénées

 

The question being debated in the Pyrenees at present is how to protect them from bears and wolves. How exactly should we fulfil our part of the contract?

Transhumance in the Ariège Pyrenees

Saturday, May 19th, 2018
Transhumance with cows

Transhumance with cows

 

There’s nothing quite like transhumance, following the animals as they leave the farm on their way to the mountain pastures for the summer. And for the farmers Philippe and Jason Lacube, their fellow workers and friends, it is an opportunity to explain farming and to enjoy themselves with the 140 visitors who have come to participate in this ancient tradition.

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Bears in the Pyrenees: the official report for 2017

Sunday, May 13th, 2018
Bear cub. Photo: Djo

Bear cub . Photo: Djo

 

The French Réseau Ours Brun (Brown Bear Network) has released its annual report [summary at end in English]. There are now officially 43 bears in the Pyrenees, spread over an area of 5,000km2 in two separate zones. 41 live in the central zone (up 2 from 2016) and 2 in the western zone. With ten adult females now present, there should be more cubs this year. (more…)

Two new bears in Pyrenean rewilding initiative

Thursday, March 29th, 2018
Bear cub [photo: DJO photo]

Bear cub in Slovenia, source of the reintroductions [photo: DJO photo]

 

I have been talking to both sides in the conflict between ecologists and anti-bear shepherds. So, the announcement on 26 March came as no surprise.

“I wish to arrange for the reintroduction of two female bears in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques [western Pyrenees] in autumn. I will ask the Prefect to organize discussions so that the reintroduction is successful,” said Nicolas Hulot, French environment minister.

France signed the Bern Convention in 1979, and the 1992 EU Habitats Directive reinforced its commitment to restoring the bear population. Two waves of arrivals, in 1996/7 and 2006, saw eight bears transplanted from Slovenia; the population here has now reached forty. But it is plagued by inbreeding, and the two male bears in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department are isolated from the main group. This is where the females will set up home.

Alain Reynes, president of the pro-bear Pays de l’Ours told me: “It’s good news but the real good news will be when they arrive. We need to work to make it happen.” As he points out, in 2010 the environment minister Chantal Jouanno proposed to release a bear to replace Franska, killed in a road accident. But nothing came of the idea.

On the other side of the equation, when asked for his reaction, Philippe Lacube, one of the major figures battling against reintroductions, commented: “It’s astonishing, because we were promised a coordinating committee. But instead of sending us two officials they’re sending us two bears!”

 

Dead sheep after an attack in the Orlu valley

Dead sheep after an attack in the Orlu valley

 

Earlier I had talked to Gisèle Gouazé, president of the cooperative that lost the 209 sheep last summer.

“Generations and generations of people have cleared that mountain and have maintained it. Where are we heading now?” she asked.

See also

bear footprint seen in Pyrenees

Bear footprint seen in Ariège, French Pyrenees [photo: Catherine Brunet]

A serious situation

Sunday, February 11th, 2018
Gisèle Gouazé with part of the flock grazing on their winter pasture in Betchet

Gisèle Gouazé with part of the flock grazing on their winter pasture in Betchat

 

Early last June 838 sheep went up to their estive (summer pastures) near Mont Rouch as they do every year. But, despite the presence of a shepherd living with them on the mountain, nearly half of them didn’t return. The reason? Bears. (more…)

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

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

 

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.

(more…)

Can sheep be protected from bears in the Pyrenees? Yes, says Catherine Brunet

Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Tarasconnaises sheep

Tarasconnaises sheep

 

It is twenty years since bears were first reintroduced into the Pyrenees and yet the question of how to protect sheep is still being debated. Some breeders assert that a shepherd permanently on site with a patou (guard dog) and who brings his sheep together at night will have minimal losses, particularly when compared with natural mortality. This is the authorities’ official line.

Others, notably in Couserans (Ariège), say that cohabitation with bears is not possible especially in areas where the slopes are steep and rocky. The flocks disperse into smaller units (escabots) in search of sustenance. Some shepherds have tried to follow the official recommendations and report difficulties.

(more…)

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