The grey wolf (Canus Lupis) is seen as a mysterious animal by most due to an association with folk stories. These stories make the wolf either a hero or villain clouding their reputation to the general public further. The wolf is undoubtedly a highly impressive hunter, standing 80 – 85cm shoulder height and 105 – 160cm in length and reaching running speeds up to 34 – 38mph. However, their increasing population and great hunting abilities are causing a problem in the French Alps.
Conservation practices actively encourage the restoration of depleting populations or restoring endemic species to a country. The protection of the wolf in France was necessary because they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1930s. The control of hunting has aided their recovery so much so, that their increasing numbers are becoming a problem.
Approximately 200 wolves (20 separate packs) are currently colonised in S. France. The wolves are believed to have migrated from Italy in the mid – 1990s and are continuing to develop their ranges. This is problematic when an expanding population encounters humans inhabiting the same area, as farmers in the French Alps believe wolves are taking their sheep.
The farmers have never before had to deal with such intelligent hunters such as the wolf and as anyone who owns a dog will know, once they pick up a trick (navigating fences to get to the sheep), they do not forget how to get the reward. During this summer, a farmer with 250 sheep has had 17 ewes taken and 10 others are missing. This puts a massive strain on these farmers in terms of financial pressures of loosing stock and hiring “body guards” for the sheep at night.
Relations between wolves and local farmers are extremely strained due to the number of their sheep taken. This year roughly 600 wolf attacks have killed at least 2000 sheep. This has led to the inevitable request of the right to hunt the problem wolves. However, is it really the wolves that are killing farmer’s sheep?
As Jean-Francois Darmstaedter of a French wolf protection agency has said,
“Remember there are eight million dogs in France and 200 wolves.”
So can farmers really blame all the attacks on a species that normally does its best to avoid any interaction with humans? In addition to this, farmers receive £115 for each sheep killed by a wolf in compensation, which may lead to some farmers exaggerating the number of attacks for more money.
The wolf should be a natural part of France’s landscape and their range (which is a concern for most) in France will be limited by decreasing wooded forest areas. In addition to this, most locals and farmers support the protection of the wolf. A collaboration between the government and local famers will ultimately produce the best management plan for the wolf as both sides of the argument will need to be explored before a sustainable agreement can be reached.