Goiat the bear may be expelled from Pyrenees over horse killings

Brown bear’s fate could be worse still after he riles farmers with attacks on livestock

After two years of roaming and a string of attacks on horses, sheep and goats, Goiat the brown bear could soon find himself declared ursus non gratus in the Pyrenees. Or worse.

Goiat, who is thought to be between 12 and 14 years old, was brought to Catalonia from his native Slovenia in June 2016 as part of an EU project to consolidate the bear population in the mountains that straddle Spain and France.

Conservation and repopulation efforts over the past two decades have been a success, with the number of animals in the central Pyrenees rising from three in 1996 to 43 today.

But Goiat’s depredations, and particularly his unusual attacks on horses, have angered farmers in the north-western Catalan areas of Pallars Sobirà and Val d’Aran and prompted calls for him to be removed from the region.

So far this year, he has apparently killed six mares, four colts, four sheep and a goat, and demolished two beehives. “He’s a bear whose behaviour is very predatory,” Ferran Miralles, the director general of environmental policy at the Catalan regional government, said.

“He’s not aggressive or dangerous to people, but he is when it comes to livestock. And, particularly and surprisingly, when it comes to mares. The majority of bear attacks are on sheep and goats. It’s very rare that they’ll attack calves and foals.”

As well as compensating farmers for the animals lost to such attacks, the regional government provides a free, 24-hour shepherd service to those whose flocks spend spring and summer grazing in areas to which bears have been reintroduced.

Such measures, however, have not done enough to reassure farmers. The Catalan farming union Unió de Pagesos said earlier this month that Goiat’s attacks were causing extensive damage to the livelihoods of local livestock farmers and beekeepers.

The union has asked the Catalan agriculture ministry to call on its environmental counterpart to have Goiat removed “once and for all, and before he causes worse problems”.

The environment ministry is in talks with wildlife agencies on both sides of the border as well as the governments in Madrid and Paris to discuss what should happen next. Experts are trying to recondition Goiat’s behaviour by using warning shots, lights, noises and repellents to provoke an adverse reaction when he approaches livestock or returns to eat his prey.

“He’s a bear that does things rather differently,” said Miralles. “We’re looking at whether he could be classified as a problem bear, or whether there are other ways of dealing with him to keep him away from livestock. If he turns out to be a problem bear then we’d have to look into the possibility of removing him and activating an extraction protocol.”

Agreement should be reached by September as to whether Goiat – whose name means “lad” in the local dialect – will be taken elsewhere or destroyed. Given that he is GPS-tagged, he will be easy enough to find.

“There are different alternatives and we haven’t yet reached a decision,” said Miralles.

He is sympathetic to the famers’ concerns, and aware of the jitters in the tourism sector, but he argues that the actions of an individual animal should not undermine years of conservation work.

“One bear has given rise to tensions over a pretty successful 20-year project and some people are saying that bears are dangerous and need to be eradicated,” he said.

“It’s not just Goiat. Some people are casting doubts on all bears, but there have obviously been bears in the Pyrenees for millennia, and for centuries there was a culture of people protecting their flocks.

“It’s true that the reintroduction of bears has led to a change in farmers’ habits and they’re worried and reluctant and annoyed, but it’s a matter of time and finding a balance.”


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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