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. Fourth Slovenian bear released in Pyrenees

by Staff Writers
Bagneres-De-Luchon, France (AFP) Jun 2, 2006
A fourth brown bear from Slovenia was released in France's southern Pyrenees mountains Friday as part of a programme to ensure the species' survival, the environment ministry said.

The four-year-old male, named Balou and weighing 88 kilos (195 pounds), was returned to the wild amid strict secrecy in the early hours of Friday to avoid sparking protests by local anti-bear activists.

The bear -- which is being sponsored by French actors Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant -- was set loose near Arbas, one of four Pyrenees towns that have agreed to take part in the programme.

Dozens of anti-bear activists had gathered Thursday night in the nearby town of Bagneres-de-Luchon, where they thought the release would take place.

Overall five bears are to be let into the wild, to boost a population put at between 14 and 18. The area's last remaining female was shot by a hunter.

Opponents, who accuse bears of attacking livestock, have mounted a fierce campaign against their release and anti-bear activists recently planted traps of honey laced with glass shards for the animals.

A demonstration by local supporters of the scheme is planned for Saturday.

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