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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 17:28 GMT
Fury at killing of Pyrenean bear
Brown bear in captivity
Only about 15 brown bears are thought to remain in the Pyrenees
One of the last remaining bears in the Pyrenees has been shot by hunters, to the fury of French environmentalists.

The 15-year-old female - known by game wardens as Cannelle - was surprised with her 10-month-old cub in the Aspe valley by a party on a wild boar shoot.

The hunters claim they fired in self defence on Monday after Cannelle charged their dogs and bit one of them.

But environmentalists have accused the group of deliberately visiting an area known to be occupied by bears.

Cannelle - or Cinnamon in English - was one of only 15 brown bears believed to remain in the Pyrenean mountains, on the border between France and Spain.

A hunt with dogs in a sector where a female bear has been spotted is inexcusable
Ligue Roc
Her cub fled from the hunters but experts who had been monitoring the pair fear for its survival without a mother. Its sex is not known.

French police in the Pau area said the six hunters came from Urdos, near the cliffs where Cannelle had been seen, according to the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

Nature organisation Ligue Roc said: "A hunt with dogs in a sector where a female bear has been spotted is inexcusable."

'Dumbstruck' by killing

The group Action Nature said in a statement: "There are no extenuating circumstances behind this indescribably catastrophic event.

"The organisers of this wild boar hunt knew perfectly well that Cannelle and her offspring of this year were in the area when they went to indulge their pleasure."

Bernard Place, president of the Departmental Hunters' Federation, told Agence France Presse he was "dumbstruck" by the killing.

"The hunters had been warned there was a bear in the area," he said. "There should not have been any shoot."

The anger of environmentalists is all the greater because Cannelle was the last female bear in the region of pure Pyrenean stock.

While two other males are indigenous, the remainder are bears imported from Slovenia. Only three or four breeding females now remain in the whole mountain range.

Attempts to increase the number of bears - a protected species - by bringing in animals from other areas of Europe have been opposed by cattle and sheep farmers. Many are also local hunters.

Serge Lepeltier, France's minister of ecology and sustainable development, had called for an inquiry into the circumstances of Cannelle's death, AP said.

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