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Wolf attacks raise howls of protest from French farmers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 2:55am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 2:55am

Animal lovers may be delighted that wolves are roaming the French mountains once again, but the predators’ increasing attacks on sheep have farmers longing to get their guns out.

On Monday, farmers flooded the streets of the city of Lyon with hundreds of sheep, demanding more government action after the deaths of more than 8,000 animals blamed on wolves since last year.

“When you discover the body of one of your sheep with its throat ripped out by a wolf, it is horrible. It’s traumatic,” said Nicolas Fabre, a 38-year-old farmer from Cornus in the southern Aveyron region.

Wolves have targeted his flock of more than 500 sheep twice in recent months, killing three of them.

The attacks, mostly in the Alps and southern France, have sparked an increasingly bitter debate between farmers and animal activists who fiercely defend the rights of Canis lupus, a protected species in Europe.

Wolves used to be common in France before dying out in the early 1930s. They reappeared naturally at the beginning of the 1990s and are now believed to number around 360.

Farmers across Aveyron, a sunny agricultural region famed for its pungent Roquefort blue cheese, said they have tried protecting their flocks with dogs, fences and netting, but to no avail.

And they say it is impossible to watch permanently over their animals, which are often spread over hilly, wooded land stretching dozens of hectares.

“There are 800,000 sheep in Aveyron,” says Francois Giacobbi, a local breeder in charge of the issue for the local farmers’ association. “It’s basically a pantry for the wolves.”

He noted that the sheep’s milk used to make Roquefort has to be from animals that graze outside – leaving producers with no choice but to expose their flocks to danger.

France’s agriculture ministry has said it wants to stop the attacks, though it has not said how.

Its new “wolf plan” is set to be negotiated and put into place from early 2018.

The government gave the green light this summer for a maximum of 40 wolves to be culled by July 2018, unchanged from last year.

Once 32 have been shot, mostly during organised hunts, farmers are allowed to shoot a further eight to thwart an imminent strike or end an attack that is already underway.

But breeders want more leeway to shoot the animals.

“You must be allowed to shoot a wolf when it attacks a flock,” said National Sheep Federation president Michele Boudoin, urging the government to come up with a plan that “puts farming and farmers back at its heart”.