The first of five Slovenian bears has been released into the wild, deep in the heart of the French Pyrenees. It is part of a controversial programme to help replenish the falling population of brown bears in the region.
“Palouma” as she has been named by her handlers, was initially reluctant to leave her cage, but was eventually released away from the camera’s gaze. Slovenia has a healthy population of the animals, with an estimated 500 to 700 of them. In the past the country has sent some to Italy, Austria, and Spain where they have been tagged and monitored by environmentalists. France has only around 14 bears in total. The last female bear native to the French Pyrenees region was shot by a hunter two years ago. Reaction to the project has been mixed. “The bear is an animal which will kill only a few metres from our homes – it’s not just a pretty picture, it’s real and goes after livestock,” said one local. But others are more phlegmatic: “Until recently we always had bears round here, I don’t see what the fuss is about.” Although the release of the bear was supposed to be a quiet, calm affair, demonstrators who are against having the wild animals near them tried to disrupt the operation. But research suggests that eventually the bears will adapt to life in France.