According to the authorities, the measures taken to protect livestock, principally sheep, from wild animals can be seen to work in Catalonia. The government gives compensation to farmers when their herds are attacked by protected animals (bears, wolves, etc). In 2009 it paid out 97,000€ but by 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, this figure had been reduced to 2,700€! If there is nothing hidden benind these figures it is a remarkable achievement.
So why is the Catalan Generalitat apparently more successful than the French government in dealing with reintroductions? I don’t have any exact costs for France but the number of animals for which compensation was paid was: 289 in 2009 as against 247 in 2015. Is it because the bears have left Catalonia and set up home in France where the pickings are easier? In Couserans (Ariège), where most of the attacks are concentrated, many shepherds refuse the principle of cohabitation. They say that the terrain would not allow keeping the sheep together in a compact flock that can be protected by a patou. So can’t change their way of managing their flocks.
It also has to be said that the figures for 2016 and 2017 are likely to be different, with the arrival of Goiat who seems to have settled down in the Val d’Aran.
But there is another side to this story. I was recently talking to a French farmer who cast doubts on the Catalan figures. She also pointed out that in Spain sheep farmers in areas with bears have had to completely restructure their farms – some moving their estives to over 80km away. I hope to investigate this in more detail this summer.
In the meantime, Catalan nature conservation workers from the Department of Agriculture have been training a dog to detect the presence of bears for the last five years. According to a report on Catalunya Ràdio the dog can now be used to determine whether attacks on farm animals are caused by bears or other animals.