London, Aug 20 : France's First Lady Carla Bruni has risked the wrath of Pyrenean farmers by taking up the issue of local brown bears, whose reintroduction fuelled a violent feud between naturalists and sheep breeders.
In a letter addressed to several environmental groups, the wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected the idea that the animals had disrupted the rural calm of the mountains and put local residents at risk since their arrival in 2006.
She said it was possible for people to live peacefully with bears even though she acknowledged it was difficult.
"There should be no question, in our country, of choosing between bear and man," she said," the Times Online quoted her, as saying.
"We must find a balanced means of coexistence. On one hand, the presence of bears in the Pyrenees reflects a willingness to protect biodiversity . . . on the other, the support of the local population is essential," she added.
While environmental groups greeted her letter, it is likely to anger French farmers, trekkers and shepherds who argue as a city-dweller she knows nothing about the consequences.
Bruni agreed in 2006 to be 'godmother' to Hvala, one of five bears brought in from Slovenia to replenish a population that had dwindled to about 15.
The arrival of the bears in the mountains sparked fury among shepherds, who claimed that the animals threatened their livestock. It also worried the tourism industry, which said visitors would be put off.