SAINT-GIRONS: Hundreds protested in front of a police station in southwest France Friday after hunters were held over the shooting of a bear in the mountainous region late last year, reports AFP. The police investigation has incensed some locals in the remote Ariege because the 70-year-old hunter suspected of shooting the bear said he fired in self-defence. “It’s intolerable to find ourselves in this position.
It was the bear that attacked the hunter, and not the other way round,” local mayor Jean-Jacques Meric told AFP at the protest in the village of Saint-Girons. “Killing her was legitimate self-defence,” he added.
The protest is the latest standoff between locals and French authorities over the reintroduction of brown bears into the Pyrenees mountains since the 1990s.
Six men were detained for questioning in Saint-Girons earlier this week and another two were called in by the police on Friday morning.
“We’ve got nothing against bears. We do have something against the state, which should do its job,” said Meric, who is also a hunter. “These detentions are shocking. They’re treating them like criminals.”
Police say they are obliged to investigate the killing of a protected species and are seeking to check if the hunters were in an authorised area last November when they encountered the bear.
The killing of a protected species is punishable by a maximum three years in jail and a fine of 150,000 euros ($170,000).
Several bears have been shot or poisoned in recent years, while farmers frequently demonstrate to demand population control because of attacks on their livestock — for which they are compensated by the state.
When two new bears were helicoptered in in 2018, farmers blocked roads and scattered bloody sheep remains in front of a town hall in the Bearn region to protest.
The head of the Ariege region, Christine Tequi, criticised the “responsibility of the state” over the latest incident.
“This is going to happen again. This time there was someone injured. The next time someone will die,” she said at the protest, calling for the bear population — estimated at around 60 — to be regulated.
Activists see bears as integral to preserving a fragile mountain ecosystem which is under threat from human activity and climate change.