Take your pick.

  • ‘Bear killed by hunter’.
  • ‘Hunter mauled by bear’.

If you were relying on social media, you might be forgiven for thinking that there had been two separate incidents last weekend.

In the first one, the hunter was at fault. In the second, the bear was guilty or, rather, the people who put her there.

As often, the effect of social media has been to take a story and tease out antagonistic threads. Once identified they can be dished up separately and the differences amplified. After that, it only remains to apportion blame.

All this has fed back into the real world, with hunters at the meeting I attended yesterday incensed at some of the comments they had read. Some comments by hunters were just as virulent.

Cannelle also died in a hunting accident in 2003

The headline that originally caught my eye read: ‘Ariège : un chasseur tue une ourse qui l’avait attaqué – Ariège, hunter kills a female bear that had attacked him’.

I read the article quickly, recognising where the events took place. I’ve walked along the valley mentioned several times, looked down on it from the summit of Mont Valier. I know the village, Seix.


Seix, a village in the Couserans, Ariège, Pyrenees
Seix, a village in the Couserans, Ariège, Pyrenees

This is what is known about the incident so far:

André, with other members of his club, was hunting wild boar high up on the east side of the Estours valley. He was in position, waiting for a boar to be driven towards him. According to his son, who visited him in hospital: “He saw something brown. He had his gun loaded but he waited to see what the animal was, 40m in front of him. When he saw the little rounded ears, he said to me that he was amazed. What he didn’t expect, turning around at just that moment, was to see the mother standing on her hind legs close to him.” He had had the misfortune to come between a mother bear and her cubs. This is recognised as the most dangerous situation in which to find yourself.

The bear attacked his legs, leaving them in tatters. His femoral artery was severed. He shot the bear. André was saved from bleeding to death by the presence of another hunter who was a paramedic. He is recovering.

As for the bear, her body was found a few metres away. Before the incident, she and her cubs would have been on the point of selecting a den for the winter. Even without her, the cubs may well survive.

If the identification of the mother bear as Caramelles is confirmed, history would be repeating itself. Caramelles and her brother Boutxy were orphaned in 1997 when their mother Melba was killed by a hunter in similar circumstances.

Estours valley

As I continued reading, I recognised the names of the people who were asked to comment. Alain Reynes, Gérard Caussimont, Christine Téqui, Philippe Lacube. I’ve talked to all of them. Know what they think about bears.

For pro-bear Reynes and Caussimont, it was the first time someone had been injured since the reintroductions 25 years ago. Read: bears are not to be feared.

For anti-bear Téqui and Lacube, this mauling was what they have been predicting since the reintroductions 25 years ago. Read: bears are to be feared.

No surprises there then.

So, for those who wish to play the blame game: Should the hunters have been there? On 26 November the prosecution service announced that it was investigating the events. At least part of the hunt was within the Mont Valier Nature Reserve, where hunting wild boar is not normally allowed.

BUT the prefect (government official) had authorised wild boar hunting for this winter, and not for the first time. Presumably the prosecution service was aware of this. So what exactly is being investigated?

There have been no charges so far.

For some people, the question is should the bear have been there? Can bears and humans live together in the Pyrenees?

Well, social media is not a good place for analysing such complex issues. Which is why I wrote The Implausible Rewilding of the Pyrenees.