From: Reuters
Published March 12, 2008 07:48 AM

French hunter on trial over killing of bear

BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - A French hunter accused of unlawfully killing one of the last native Pyrenees bears in 2004 said on Wednesday he acted in self defense after unexpectedly coming across the animal in the mountains.

Rene Marqueze, 65, was speaking at the opening of a hearing in the southwestern city of Pau where he is facing an action brought by environmental groups for killing a member of a protected species.

If convicted, he could face up to nine months in prison and a 9,000 euro ($13,830) fine.

The trial is the latest incident in a long running battle over wild bears, which environmentalists want to reintroduce to the Pyrenees after native bears were hunted to extinction.

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Many local farmers, who say the bears kill sheep and damage crops, are strongly opposed to efforts to reestablish them.

Marqueze said he was confronted by the bear, Cannelle, while hunting for wild boar in the Aspe valley of the Pyrenees mountains near France's border with Spain.

"She was standing on her hind legs, her two ears were standing up," he said. "She raced forward when I saw her, I took off to get out of her way but she didn't hesitate, she charged me from behind," he told French radio.

He said he shot the bear, which was accompanied by a cub, from a distance of five to six meters (yards).

The death of Cannelle, described as a "great loss for biodiversity" by former President Jacques Chirac, sparked outrage among environmental groups and prompted the relaunch of a campaign to bring brown bears from Slovakia to the region.

She was believed by environmentalists to be the last female native Pyrenees bear in existence.

Francois Ruffie, a lawyer working for two environmental groups, said Marqueze was aware of the presence of the bear and her cub and could not have been surprised by it.

"Everyone who uses natural spaces has rights but also responsibility and hunters, who use weapons, most of all," he told Reuters.

A judicial investigation into the incident in 2004 was dropped but the ruling that there was no case to answer was overturned on appeal.

(Reporting by Claude Canellas, writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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