For months, all was quiet in the mountain valleys of the Pyrenees. But as winter gave way to spring, turning snow-fed streams into gushing torrents, and painting the hillsides green, he woke up—and he was hungry.
The he in this story is Goiat, a 250-kilogram brown bear who was captured in Slovenia three years ago and introduced in the Pyrenees as part of an ongoing, EU-driven effort to repopulate the range. Brown bears lived for centuries in the region but were pushed to near extinction by the end of the 20th century.
There are now thought to be about 45 bears roaming the mountains between France and Spain. Considering the scale of the territory involved—the Pyrenees stretch about 450 kilometers from east to west—the number is objectively small. But livestock breeders and their allies in an outspoken “anti-ours” (anti-bear) movement insist that the omnivorous predators are a big problem. And of all the bears, none is more of a menace, they say, than Goiat.
Pressure began to build last year for the bear’s removal following a series of attacks on sheep and even horses. Goiat wears a GPS tracking device, meaning that in each case, authorities are able to cross reference his whereabouts with the reported location of the attacks.
The Slovenian bear was “saved by the bell,” columnist Antonio Cerrillo wrote this week in the Spanish daily La Vanguardia, by the onset of winter. But after emerging from his long period of repose, the bear appears to have resumed his hyper-aggressive antics.
In April, in the Aran valley, on the Catalan side of the mountains, Goiat is suspected of killing a lamb, sheep and foal in separate attacks. And in the early part of this month, he is thought to have killed several animals in the Louron valley, in France.
Breeders like Michel Lavail—who’s so fed up he dumped the corpses of two dead sheep in front of his local town hall—want Goiat (and the rest of the brown bears) gone, France Télévisions journalist Corinne Lebrave recently reported.
Before taking steps to remove Goiat, authorities in France and Spain will first experiment with various ways to discourage the bear from attacking livestock. They want to scare him off, in other words — with firecrackers, if needs be.
Even some of those whose job it is to protect the brown bear population in the Pyrenees admit that Goait has “abnormal behavior,” as a spokesperson for the Catalan government’s environmental section told the AFP. “[He’s] excessively predatory.”