Bears and sheep – promoting coexistence with cheese

Location: Nouvelle-Aquitaine – France,
Story by: Yannick Lamazou

© Beatrice Jouenne / WWF


Working as a shepherd in the Pyrenees is a challenge since bears are around. Yannick Lamazou produces cheese up in the mountains in the National Park and found a good way of promoting bears and sheep at the same time.


Yannick Lamazou is the son of a shepherd who has been working as a mountain shepherd  in the National Park of the Pyrenees (Lapachouaou hut) for 12 years in the Pyrenees brown bear area.  His 300 ewes herd has never been attacked. He faced problems with stray dogs which is a problem much more important than the bear or the wolf presence. There have always been bears here.  Shepherds always had to live with them. Yannick is not afraid of being attacked: watching the herd is crucial. Every night Yannick parks his sheeps in an electrified enclosure with his guarding dog.

There are only two remaining male bears between the Aspe and Ossau Valleys. If the bear would disappear, his job and the mountain economy could disappear too. Thus he’s asking for a reinforcement of the bear population in this part of the Pyrenees.


Following the results of a marketing survey showing the interest of local cheese makers, the Fonds d’Intervention EcoPastoral (FIEP is a Pyrenees association) launched a programme to establish the brand “Pé Descaous” for cheese made out of sheep milk. “Pé Descaous” is a nickname of the bear in Basque and means barefoot “Le va-nu-pied”.

Yannick is one of the 14 “Pé Descaous” cheese producers who want to preserve their way of life and cultural cheese-making, and who are in favor of the conservation of bears. As a part of this programme he produces the Pé Descaous sheep cheese in his shepherd’s hut in the mountain pasture following strict specifications (sheep of local breeds, daily cheese making…). A plaster moulding of a bear paw is printed on the cheese so that the product supports the shepherds as well as the bears. The promotion of the cheese was also part of the LIFE Coex programme.

“I think, that bears and other large carnivores have the same right to live here as we do. They are part of the ecosystem and it would be really sad if they would disappear.”

Yannick Lamazou talks about his experiences with bears and cheese


Governmental Damage Refund Scheme

The payment of compensation for livestock losses due to large carnivore depredation is a common technique in many European countries. Public money is used to protect livestock owners from economic losses. The different schemes vary as well as the party who is in charge of paying the compensation:  Depending on the local regulations it is payed by different agencies including the state, non-government organizations, or agricultural insurance schemes. Compensation is usually paid only for depredation by specific species – that requires the identification of the responsible species. In addition, conditions may be attached to the payments, such as certain animal husbandry requirements.

Product marketing

Large carnivores can have a negative influence on the economic situation of local citizens working in an area. On the other hand their presence can be a chance to create economic success. The branding of local products that are linked with large carnivores can help to raise awareness and interest for the conservation of wolf, bear or other carnivores. This can also be an opportunity for tourism. For example cheese made of milk from sheep or honey that are produced in a bear area can be branded with the names and/or symbolic elements of the protected species.

© Beatrice Jouenne /WWF


Yannick sells his cheese in plain in autumn  using the symbol of bear. That brings added value to a product from the bear area and it brings him more money. His customers the creameries are happy to buy cheese with the bear footprint produced by shepherds who respect their environment. The presence of bears in the Pyrenees also allows shepherds to benefit from financial supports from the Government. These supports help them do their job better by financing a large part of helicopter and mule transportation as well as guarding dogs. Without these financial supports shepherds couldn’t afford these services.

Don’t take your eyes off the herd, don’t leave it alone. This is where predators can attack and of course after that it is normal that there is damage. If the herd is all alone it is not protected and automatically there is damage.

FIEP- Groupe ours Pyrénées

Gérard Caussimont

FIEP- Groupe ours Pyrénées, BP 508  64010
Pau cedex
Tél 06 73 34 74 96

Les Bergers du Haut Béarn

SARL Commercialisation
64570 Lanne en Baretous

Tél. 05 59 2137 96