Larrau, France, Aug 5 (AFP/APP):As day breaks over the Pyrenees mountains, hundreds of sheep scuttle up a valley, the clanging of their neck bells echoing around the hills that fringe the French-Spanish border.
For generations, shepherds in the region have steered sheep up the mountains in summer to graze on higher pastures, against breathtaking backdrops of sheer precipices and plunging valleys.
But the arrival last year of two more bears — brought over from Slovenia to boost the area’s tiny bear population — has made the herdsmen jittery.
Clouding the bucolic scenes of sheep grazing in mountain meadows is the fear that the bears, one of whom has already killed several sheep in the region, will strike again.
“Before we took the sheep up, there was an uneasy atmosphere in the valley,” Nicolas Bengoechea, part of a father-and-son shepherd team that keeps watch over a flock of 1,500 sheep, told AFP.
France’s growing bear population, like its burgeoning wolf population, is a source of tension in mountainous areas, pitting farmers against the authorities and animal rights activists.
The state began reintroducing brown bears from Slovenia about 20 years ago in a bid to increase numbers of the omnivorous mammals, which had been hunted to near extinction.