A unexpected guest joined the action during stage six of the Tour of Poland on Thursday. A pony became the mane focus of attention as it galloped alongside – and even momentarily in front – of riders before it was ushered to safety down a side street in the southern town of Zakopane
More than 200 sheep have plunged to their deaths in the Pyrenees while apparently trying to escape a brown bear. The bears have been reintroduced to the mountain region over the past three decades after being wiped out by hunters.
The sheep, which belonged to a farmer in Couflens, south-west France, are thought to have taken fright when the bear appeared in the area last Sunday.
After the predator attacked one of the sheep, 209 others in the flock panicked and hurled themselves off a 200 metre-high cliff on the border between France and Spain. The bodies of 169 sheep were found the next day at the foot of the cliff in the Spanish village of Lladorre. The other dead animals were found in France.
The Spanish news agency Europa Press said bear fur had been found on one of the dead sheep and would be analysed to try to establish exactly what had happened.
Although the French government will compensate the farmer for his loss, the incident has provoked an angry response from the local branch of the French farmers’ federation.
“Pastoralism – which protects biodiversity and keeps the mountains alive – is not compatible with the reintroduction of large predators,” said the Confédération Paysanne de l’Ariège.
The last female brown bear native to the Pyrenees was shot dead by hunters in 2004. The French government has been engaged in a repopulation programme since the early 1990s, using bears from Slovenia. There are now thought to be about 30 brown bears in the region.
Farmers on both sides of the border blame the bears for attacks on their livestock and the predators are sometimes killed. In September last year, the corpse of a brown bear – a protected species in Spain – was found with a gunshot wound to the chest in the northern regions of Asturias.
Pamplona’s efforts to tackle the scourge of sexual assaults that has blighted its famous bull-running festival in recent years appear to be paying off, with this year’s celebrations showing a marked reduction in violent sexual attacks.
Two years ago, the mayor of the northern Spanish city admitted that sexual assaults had become “a black stain” on the festivities.
Last year’s event was marred by a notorious gang rape, an attempted rape and several allegations of sexual assault.
This year, according to the city council, police have investigated 11 cases of groping, one of them involving intimidation, but no cases of rape or attempted rape.
“Every day is a challenge, but things are going well,” said Aritz Romeo, city councillor for public safety. “We’re seeing fewer cases than in recent years and of a less serious nature.”
However, campaigners say that far more needs to be done to address the underlying sexism and misogyny evident on T-shirts and badges seen during the festival.
The LilithFeminista collective and others have been tweeting images of men wearing T-shirts depicting oral sex and drawn attention to the sale of offensive badges with slogans such as: “Shut up and suck”; “Go and get beer; you’re looking ugly again”; “For someone who’s dumb, you’re not very pretty” and “Being a virgin doesn’t make you a saint”.
Romeo said that 200 such badges had been confiscated from street sellers and that police were looking into whether their messages could be considered incitement to commit hate crimes.
He said that 3,500 police officers – including those specially trained in dealing with victims of sexual abuse – had been deployed, adding that a daily list of criminal offences was published to show that abusers would be arrested and punished.
“The most important thing is raising social awareness so that in the future these things don’t happen,” he said.
“Things have already got better because of the work we’ve done on this and they’ll get better over the next five or 10 years. Younger people are increasingly aware of these issues.”
The councillor said that people were beginning to understand that any assault needed to be reported.
“A few years back, if a woman was groped in a bar, it was sorted out in the bar and no one reported it. But now, people report it and the local police go in and arrest the attacker and he goes to trial and is sentenced.”
He added: “If you do it, you pay for it.”
While LilithFeminista acknowledged that the city council had run a “strong campaign”, it said the proliferation of sexist slogans revealed the true extent of the problem.
“What makes us furious is that a whole year can be spent on such a big campaign only for people to wander round wearing T-shirts or badges with messages that are totally sexist and derogatory towards women,” said the collective.
“It shows just how much work still needs to be done in society so that people understand the problem these messages represent.”
While it was all very well having thousands of police officers on patrol, the collective added: “We think the campaign would be more effective if the authorities knew how to identify all kinds of abuse – from the least to the most serious. The gropings and rapes are at the extreme end, but there are many other situations and acts going on that are neither reported nor controlled.”
Two Americans and a Spaniard have been gored during the first running of the bulls of this year’s San Fermín festival, medical officials in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona said.
A 46-year-old Spanish man was undergoing surgery on Friday for serious injuries to his head and leg after he was gored and then tossed by a bull.
Hospital officials said two men, aged 29 and 35, from the US had also been gored but their injuries – in the scrotum and abdomen respectively – were not serious.
More runners were treated at the event for bruises, a Red Cross spokesman said, after two of the animals separated from the other four in the pack on their way to the bullring.
They completed the 850-metre course in just under three minutes, an average speed for the run.
The bulls came from the Cebada Gago ranch, famed as fierce because its animals have caused more injuries in recent years. Since they debuted in Pamplona’s narrow streets in 1985, bulls from this southern Spanish breeding family have gored 53 people.
A shark on a Spanish beach is a vividly terrifying image. The holiday idyll threatened by a sharp-finned deputation from the deep. This is no “snakes on a plane” fantasy. Potential disaster looms. There are children out there, for God’s sake. In a resort where the sand may be raked daily, and where a margarita is never more than a few euros away, such disruptive visions seem all the sharper.
Can’t somebody do something about it? The animal was eventually captured – and was found to be already wounded. It is a parable in a meme (to mix narrative metaphors): our infantile fear for our infants becomes the innocent animal’s death. In this case, via a harpoon – administered either before or after its visitation.
For beach-goers used only to virtual, CGI terror, glimpsed on their blue screens, the reality out of that ultimate blue-screen sea is actually somewhat pathetic. A thrashing fish, tomorrow’s steak, taking a long time to die, paying for its mistake in coming into contact with a predator it wasn’t expecting. I predict that we are only days away from reports of great whites off Cornwall – which usually turn out to be basking sharks, whose appetites extend to nothing bigger than plankton. How strange we are, faced with our fleeting pleasures, that they must be tinged with mortality.
The summer sees us reconnect to the sea, an element on which we usually turn our backs – either out of ignorance or trepidation. But we are not stupid. Our fear is not unfathomed. Beyond the possibility of drowning, and below that evanescent medium, any manner of terrors might lie – from stinging jellyfish to ferocious apex predators.
I swim every single day in the sea – throughout the year – in the murky Solent under the shadow, not of a beach umbrella, but an oil refinery. I like the juxtaposition. It conjures up images of the days before package tours when Greenwich and Tower Bridge boasted Thames-side beaches, and Hampton Court claimed to be London’s Riviera.
Wading out in the dark before dawn, as I did this morning, I often get bitten by fish. A nip on the ankles from a bass is no Spielberg scenario. No one’s going to need a bigger boat. But you’d be a fool not to take a shark seriously.
Unlike cetaceans, their rivals for apex position in the sea, sharks seek no connection with us. I’ve never felt so safe in the water as I have done when swimming near whales. Even when a pod of marauding, transient orca drove me out of the water in Sri Lanka earlier this year (after ramming and attempting to overturn our fishing boat), I could rationalise their behaviour as mammalian, sentient. Admirable, even. With sharks, it is a different matter.
Recently, a TV company from Barcelona thought it would make a good sequence if I swam in the city’s aquarium in the company of its sand tiger sharks. With whales and dolphins, one senses a mutual curiosity. But these creatures, sliding by, looked at me through glaucous, reptilian eyes. There was no focus there, no reaction. I felt that the only interest they had in me was in the paltry mouthfuls with which my puny, bony body might supplement their diet. Last summer in the truly, rather than mimetically deep waters of the Azores, from the prow of a Zodiac, I saw a hammerhead shark twisting and turning in the sea below me. Even though I was safely above, I felt an atavistic frisson, as if it might yet leap up at me.
It is our imagination – never less than a glorious thing – that is at work here. But also, perhaps, a subconscious sense of guilt. This same sublime ocean, always so out of our reach, is now poisoning those monsters. There will be more plastic than fish in it by 2050. Our only resident pod of orcas have been unable to rear a healthy calf for 23 years because of PCBs and heavy metals in the seas. And last week came the news that a rare Cuvier’s beaked whale stranded on the Isle of Skye – an image replete with so many levels of “purity” – was the first cetacean death to be definitively due to plastic: 4kg of ziplock and carrier bags.
Meanwhile, anthropogenic noise – in an environment that for almost all of its existence knew only the cracking of pistol shrimps or the echo-locating clicks of cetaceans – now drowns out all else: diesel-powered freight, seismic surveys for oil, military sonar. When the shipping lanes from the US east coast to Europe were closed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, scientists studying right whale vocalisations realised their subjects had stopped shouting.
There are deep irreconcilables at work here: what we want the sea to be (a resort for our dreams, the edge of otherness) and what we have turned it into (a cistern for our sins). Any water is a mortal place – as the families who lost their young men on Camber Sands last year know all too well. But the water is an immortal place, too, a place of magical transitions, for all species.
The dark shark slides into the clear warm water, laden with all of our presuppositions, all the vital disconnections between us and the rest of creation. It is dumb, stupid, dull-eyed, to our minds. But perhaps, in its dim, antediluvian memory, which predates ours by 400 million years, it thinks the same about us. And as fearful as we may be of it, our fear of its illimitable domain reminds us that we are still alive and kicking.
• Philip Hoare’s RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR is published by Fourth Estate on 13 July
A blue shark caused panic on Saturday after being seen by bathers close to the beaches of Cala Major and Can Pastilla. The animal was captured on Sunday, with local media reporting that it was suffering from a head wound, possibly caused by a harpoon
Experts have captured a blue shark whose presence in shallow waters off the coast of Mallorca caused panic over the weekend and led to the evacuation of beaches on the Balearic island.
The animal was first spotted on Saturday as it swam close to the beaches at Cala Major and Can Pastilla, near the Mallorcan capital of Palma. Pictures showed the shark gliding through the water a few metres from bathers, who dashed to the safety of the shore.
Lifeguards raised the red flag, ordered swimmers out of the water and closed the beach after the sighting. Experts in motorboats then conducted a search of the area to try to find the shark.
By Sunday afternoon, it had been located and captured. A local paper, the Diario de Mallorca, reported that the shark had been found with a serious head wound, apparently caused by a harpoon. It was not clear if the shark was injured before or after it was spotted near the beach. Specialists from the Palma aquarium said the shark appeared to be dying and they were looking into whether it needed to be killed.
One witness posted an account of the beach incident on Facebook. “Everyone out of the water!” she wrote. “The lifeguards were shouting that the red flag had been raised here on the Cala Major beach and that there were three sharks – the smallest of which was a metre-and-a-half long.”
She added: “What a pity that they have to come so close because we’re destroying their ecosystem and they have to survive.”
Blue sharks, which can measure up to 3.8 metres and normally feed on fish and squid, have been known in rare incidents to circle divers and attack people. In July last year, one of the animals was blamed for biting the hand of a man who was swimming off the Costa Blanca in south-eastern Spain.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the shark is hunted for food and its fins used for shark fin soup.