From the Berlin Daily "Der Tagesspiegel" of 25. August 2001
Sabine Heimgärtner - Paris
The wild west rides again on the French moors. Hunters and conservationists traditionally join battle at the start of the hunting season - this year the excesses are so great that Brigitte Bardot, animal rights campaigner par excellence, has personally joined in. In an open letter to the government she calls for an end to hunting. What prompted her to this action?
On the moors of La Bričre, in southwest France, hundreds of waterfowl and waders have been shot at dawn and dusk, including protected species such as great and little egret, various members of the snipe family, geese, ducks and ibises. Bird cadavers still hung in the branches of trees in the morning light as gendarmes discovered the slaughter. The immediate suspects were militant hunting groups of the local hunters' associations who have been agitating for days against the postponing of the start of the hunting season to 1 September. Numerous regional courts have allowed the appeals of conservation organisations for EU directives for the protection of birds during the breeding season to be put into force.
DEATH THREATS AGAINST MAYORS
The reaction of the angry hunting guerrillas was instant and violent. They occupied environment offices, smeared graffiti on town halls, and sent death threats to 2 town mayors. Following the bird slaughter police protection has been afforded to homes and offices of conservationists.
Even the president of the Bričre moors hunting society, Patrick Helbert, refuses to defend his more violent colleagues. "Some of them go far too far" he said, "I know who is involved; but those who name names risk having their houses burnt down.". Helbert knows what he is talking about. Last year the region was shocked by two pyromaniac attacks. In the first an ornithologist, who organises birdwatching tours by boat in the area, lost his house. Not far away a fire destroyed the administrative offices of a local nature reserve. There have been NO arrests!
In the meantime the hunters sit in their huts and enjoy their evening meal of roast duck. "My father and grandfather were hunters - and I know what is good for the Bričre moor" states a 54 year old in defence of the morning's slaughter. As many of his hunting pals he despises the "musli-eaters" as he and his friends call the conservationists who, in his words "want to ban fungi collecting today, angling tomorrow and the hunting of waterfowl the day after."
In the course of a single hunting season some 9,000 tons of lead are fired from hunters' guns. Some 100,000 birds which escape being shot die annually of lead poisoning after swallowing the pellets.
HUNTERS MAFIA VERSUS ECO WARRIORS
The hunters lobby is weighty. Those responsible for such massacres cannot be punished, in the government's view, because of their valuable votes. Some 1.5 million Frenchmen are wildfowl hunters; more than 300,000 of them in a sub-group of the largest hunting association, the CPNT. The organisation with the proud name "Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Tradition" is now organised as a political party; and won 7 percent of the vote at the European elections in 1999. In the run up to the approaching French elections the boss of the CPNT, Jean Saint-Josse, intends to "clearly improve on" the result of the European election. With only 8 months to go, the leftwing government are afraid of losing up to 85 constituencies to the conservative hunters. Reason enough for PM Jospin and his team to do little in the way of mediation between the Hunters Mafia and the Eco Warriors, as the French Press have christened the opposing sides.
The crisis is about birds - and Brigitte Bardot plays a leading role once again. She accuses the red-green government of adopting a 'head in the sand' policy. Keeping a low profile in the hope of not losing the votes of French hunters. The ever-active blonde appeals in her letter for the Minister for Internal Affairs to put an end to these lawless activities. His surname 'Vaillant' or 'courageous'. Brigitte writes "Its laughable for someone with your name to act like a complete w****r in this matter.".
**** = anke
© Der Tagesspiegel 2001
© translation David Conlin 2001