Grumpy old Franska can't bear to have sex
WHEN Franska the bear was released into the French Pyrenees, she carried with her a nation's hopes to repopulate the species and help reverse years of environmental neglect.
Instead, the Slovenian bear has infuriated locals, who say she has killed about 150 sheep since her arrival last year, and has sparked a row between Paris and Ljubljana.
Amid evidence that she is 17 and not seven, as first thought, French officials claim to have been misled by their Slovene counterparts. With feelings already running high in the French Pyrenees over the plan to renew a brown bear population that had virtually died out, the revelation about Franska's age was a bombshell. Farmers claimed she was not only aggressive but useless, because she was too old to have cubs, and, at a meeting last week with Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the French Ecology Minister, demanded her capture.
'Le Figaro', the national newspaper, said France had been given "faulty goods". 'Sud Ouest', the regional daily, accused the authorities of bringing in an animal that preferred "blueberries to sex". Miha Marence, a spokesman for the wildlife department of the Slovenian Environment Ministry, suggested that the French could only blame themselves - their experts had been present when Franska was caught.
He said scientists from both countries had estimated her age at seven, only for a subsequent laboratory analysis on one of her teeth in Bordeaux to reveal that they were 10 years out.
Mrs Kosciusko-Morizet said: "She is, in effect, older then we had agreed upon with the Slovenians and . . . it is probable that she is 17 years old."
However, the minister insisted that Franska was still able to produce cubs and could have "three or four pregnancies". Scientists agreed, although they said that the fecundity of bears diminished with age and a seven-year-old female would have been more suitable.
Mrs Kosciusko-Morizet refused to order the capture of Franska, who weighs 17st 4lb (110kg). But she said she would call in an international team of experts to determine how to handle brown bears with "behavioural problems".
Georges Azavant, the president of the Pyrenees National Park, said Franska had been responsible for more than half of all bear attacks on sheep since being released in April 2006.
Christian Puyo, head of the local farmers' union, said: "The entire population is living in fear." Gilbert Verdier, the mayor of the town of Generest - where farmers fired shots into the air in an attempt to chase away Franska this month - added: "Even people who used to go and pick mushrooms are afraid and are staying home."
Anti-bear protesters say Franska's age may explain her aggression, but ecologists claim she has been made nervous by their noisy and violent attempts to drive her away. For instance, honey-covered shards of glass were found near the spot where she was released.
The pro-bear lobby says bears are responsible for only 1pc of sheep and cattle deaths in the region and argues that the number could be reduced further if shepherds took steps to shield their flocks. (© The Times, London)