Shepherds against bones in the Pyrenees

Ramon Cornellana’s great-grandfather had 17 sheep at the beginning of the last century. His grandfather expanded the small herd to 400 specimens and his father widened it again, first reaching 1,300 animals and then down to 430. Cornellana himself took care of it until June 28, when a he put his world upside down.

“If you want to do experiments, you put the sheep,” Cornellana told the forest agents that day who had gone up to Cap de Juverri, near Farrera (Pallars Sobirà), where the herd was grazing and sleeping, without close or guard dog, during the hot months. At his feet were two dead sheep, attacked shortly before by a bone. The day before, the same plantigrade had killed three more. Five more were missing.

Cornellana, 65, spoke to the daughters (one of them, crying, asked her, “Stop going up the mountain, father, something will happen to you”) and decided that she had come this far. He would take the sheep out of the Pyrenees, put them up for sale and abandon grazing. “The bones are not compatible with extensive livestock farming as I have known it,” he says.

Assaults and poison

The coexistence between bones and shepherds has never been entirely peaceful in these mountains. Here, unlike what happens in the Cantabrian Mountains, the animal became extinct, a victim of hunters, and the at least 70 specimens that currently inhabit the Pyrenees are of Slovenian origin, thanks to four different actions carried out in the last three decades. Since then, the conflict with the shepherds of sheep, an animal that is much more comfortable to attack for the bone than the cows that carry out the cattle ranch in Asturias or Palencia, has never been very far.

In 2008, the attack on the Aran Valley by a bear named Hvala on a hunter, which caused 13 stitches between his left leg and right arm, caused all political groups in this territory to ‘united to demand that the plantigrades, from the first to the last, march where they had come. In 2020, the Cachou bone appeared dead, to which five attacks on cattle were attributed. He had been poisoned. The investigation, which is still ongoing, uncovered a network of officials and authorities who allegedly ordered a plan for the plantigrade to ingest antifreeze.

The recent attack on Cornellana’s sheep has once again warmed the spirits, although aggression has slowed in recent times. According to data provided by the Ministry of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, bone attacks on sheep and goats in the Catalan Pyrenees rose to 61 in 2018, but since then have dropped to nine in the past year. For this reason, without failing to recognize what it means for a shepherd to have his livestock attacked, even if he receives financial compensation, the Generalitat calls for calm. Conservationists also argue that the debate is “going out of hand”, focusing on the importance of an animal as tied to the Pyrenees as the bone stepping on the mountains again.

Lots of height, few fruits

But pastoralists insist that plantigrades must leave, a position supported by the Farmers’ Union. “I find it very difficult for coexistence between extensive livestock and bone. It’s them or us. And the game is winning the bone. They have not put limits on the area, how many bones there must be, when all this will stop. Because the Pyrenees are not Asturias. The mountains here are much higher, with less nuts and wild berries. When the animal wakes up to overwinter, if it does not catch a wild boar, it is difficult for it to eat. This is the beginning of the end of livestock farming “, says Joan Guitart, coordinator of the mountain counties in the agricultural union.

Last Sunday, Guitart and other colleagues went up to the Pallars Sobirà to say goodbye to the sheep of Cornellana, which are now in Puiggròs, far from the Pyrenees and their bones. There was a 92-year-old man named Josep Bringué, weeping over the disappearance of the last flock in a village that had had four. An idea began to settle in the group as a form of protest against what happened: a “mountain strike.” According to Guitart, who clarifies that the decision has not yet been made, it would consist of “stopping removing the animals. Give it all up. Let the administration clean up the mountain. And if there is a fire, they will know.

Electrified fences

“We regret this situation. This is not good news for the country, because extensive livestock farming is very important to keep these spaces open, ”says Marc Vilahur, Director General of Environmental Policies and the Natural Environment. But Vilahur also points out that Cornellana’s sheep did not have a guard dog, and that the shepherd had not used the Generalitat’s device to prevent bone attacks during these months, which consists of regrouping several herds and col. place an electrified fence in the space where they spend the night.

“The regrouping may sound good. They tell you that they take care of your sheep, but you don’t see them in two or three months, ”says Guitart, of the Farmers’ Union. And animals get fatter less. They gather two or three thousand, so the weakest suffer, because they can’t find food. In the end, it’s another bone problem. ”

May be. But extensive sheep farming in the Pyrenees has more important problems than bone, according to Guillermo Palomero, president of the Oso Pardo Foundation. “The sector has much bigger challenges, such as the lack of generational succession or its ability to compete with market prices,” explains Palomero, for whom the conflict, in essence, has enough to do with “a union that it takes advantage of the situation to make itself noticed in the media ”, magnifying the impact of attacks such as those suffered by the Cornellana herd.

The old pastor, meanwhile, continues to roll over, sad. He misses early in the morning, climbs into his SUV and heads up the mountain to spend the day with his sheep. Cornellana thought of retiring soon, but not like that. “Not with that anguish,” he points out. “Since then I’ve been a little stuck between my stomach and heart. And he doesn’t leave. My life is family and sheep, ”he says through tears. Some will say I’m a sentimentalist for taking it that way, but the more you take care of them, the more it hurts you. What I feel now I do not wish on anyone.



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