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When on 20 November a wild bear was shot dead by a hunter in Seix, in the southwestern French department of Ariège, her two bear cubs were left orphaned. Animal protection organizations fear that they will not survive in the wild by themselves, and they now are calling for banning hunting in bear zones.

Caramelles, thought to be the cubs’ mother, was shot twice protecting them after attacking a hunter who entered her territory trying to shoot boars. The 70-year-old hunter survived the encounter with a serious injury that severed his femoral artery, but the bear did not. She was born in 1997 and was herself an orphan when her mother Mellba was shot by another hunter.

Alain Marek, from the Association pour la Protection des Animaux Sauvages (Aspas), said: “The cubs are still there, all alone, we don’t know where…Without the mother, they won’t know how to feed themselves or where to hide.”

The cubs, who are ten or eleven months old, are in a very remote area of the mountains difficult to access, so any call for them to be rescued may not be answered. Bear cubs stay with their mother until they are 18 months old, but some can be very independent from the age of 6 months. So, the fate of Caramelles’s cubs is uncertain, but it is unlikely they will survive the upcoming winter. 

In the 1990s bears almost disappeared in France due to hunting, but the government reintroduced some from Slovenia, and last year the bear population was 64 (including 16 cubs). 

Josy Dumas, an animal protection activist, stated: “This drama could have been avoided if the hunters had respected the bear’s territory.” She has now started a petition addressed to the Minister of Ecological Transition asking for the end of hunting in bear zones. 

What happens to the animals left behind is something often ignored by those who, deceptively, try to justify hunting in the name of conservation. Not just young offspring dependent on their parents, but also the rest of a family or colony that needed the hunted animals for protection. Trophy hunters often target the most “good-looking” individuals (as they want to hang their heads as trophies in their living rooms), who are often the dominant animals giving stability and protection to the group. There is no end to the harm each hunter’s bullet inflicts to sentient life.