The flock of sheep tried to outrun a bear (file photo).

The flock of sheep tried to outrun a bear (file photo).

More than 200 sheep have died after they hurtled over the edge of a cliff in the Pyrenees mountains while being chased by a bear.

Their deaths have reignited the bitter debate over the presence of bears in the mountain range that straddles the French-Spanish border, where they were reintroduced 20 years ago after disappearing in the early Nineties.

The sheep belonged to a farmer in the Couflens area on the French side of the border, but their bodies were found last Sunday at the foot of a cliff just over the border in Spain.

The rest of the large flock were missing after dispersing over the mountains while fleeing the attack.

Local authorities sent experts to examine the scene during the week and they concluded that the sheep had been running away from a bear.

The sheep’s owner will be compensated for each of the 209 animals found dead, which is standard practice in such cases as part of the deal made between the government and farmers when brown bears from Slovenia were introduced.

But the deaths provoked an angry statement from the Confederation Paysanne (Farmers’ Federation), which demanded immediate action to stop deadly attacks by bears on livestock.

“Pastoralism, which is a guarantor of biodiversity and of a living and welcoming mountain region, is not compatible with the reintroduction of large predators,” it said in a statement. “The state, which is responsible for the reintroduction of the bears, should remove the ones that are causing problems.”