Published: 07 Feb 2013 08:59 GMT+01:00 | Print version
Updated: 07 Feb 2013 08:59 GMT+01:00
In a bid to try and crackdown on the number of wolf attacks on farm animals the French government has announced a plan to try and "educate" the wild beasts. The proposal has been greeted with mixed reactions.
Can you teach a wolf not to eat sheep?
The idea is being floated in France, where the return of the wolf has got farmers and environmentalists at each other's throats.
Under a proposed "National Wolf Plan," the government says it will conduct experiments into "educating" the canine carnivore, which is spreading stealthily in remote areas.
Rest assured, this scheme does not entail lecturing wolves about the cuteness of lambs or trying to convert them to vegetarianism.
Instead, it entails capturing individual wolves that are known to attack a local flock and then marking these bothersome predators before letting them go.
The theory is that the animal will be so traumatised by the experience that it will leave the sheep alone and instead hunt for deer, boar, rabbits and other wild animals.
But if the wolf remains a problem, the ID makes it easier to be singled out and shot.
"Eleven of France's regional parks have said they are willing to take part in the experiments," Ecology Minister Delphine Batho said this week, as the proposal met a mixed reception.
Once plentiful, the wolf officially died out in France in the 1930s, wiped out by farmers and hunters.
More than a half a century later, wolves began creeping back, crossing the border from Italy. In 1992, suspicions of the comeback were confirmed when a pair of wolves were spotted in the Mercantour park in the southeast of the country.
Around 250 wolves in France
Today, according to Eric Marboutin at the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS), there are around 250 wolves, 90 percent of them in the Alps, and scatterings of others in the east and southwest of France, including the eastern Pyrenees.
In 2011, a wolf was spotted for the first time in the Vosges, in eastern France, and last year, a wolf was photographed in a cornfield in the southwestern department (county) of Gers, the westernmost point of the species' advance.
The wolf is shielded by the Bern Convention on European wildlife, and in 2007 it joined other mammals on a list of species that in France are given special protection, except in specific cases where they pose a threat.
But flocks are under rising pressure as the wolves expand.
Two powerful groups -- the agricultural lobby and the environmental movement -- are fiercely at odds, despite efforts to forge consensus in a "National Wolf Group" that includes politicians.
Emotions flared last month in the upper house of the French parliament, where rural regions are strongly represented.
Senator Pierre Bernard-Reymond of the High Alps region blasted Parisians for what he said was their cosy image of an ancient predator.
"It's time to release a few wolfpacks in the Vincennes Park or the Luxembourg Gardens," he said -- a suggestion that was not adopted.
In 2008, 2,680 sheep were killed by wolves, according to an official count; this rose to 4,920 in 2011 and 5,848 in 2012, when the state paid out compensation of around two million euros ($2.7 million).
At present, 11 wolves are allowed to be shot each year. Anti-wolvers say that this restriction is far too inflexible.
Under the 2013-2017 plan, the figure would be adjusted in line with scientific estimates of what is a sustainable wolf population.
"The wolf is and will remain a species that is strictly protected," the ecology and agricultural ministries said in a joint statement.
"However, bearing in mind the healthy population dynamics of this species, it is possible to fine-tune the methods for managing it."
Capturing and marking a problem animal would mean that only the real culprits would be targeted. Or so it is hoped.
Jean-Jacques Blanchon of the pro-wolf Nicolas Hulot Foundation said wolf education had worked successfully in pilot experiments in the United States, "so we should make the effort to see what it can do for us."
Don't bother, retorted others.
"You might as well try to educate a shark," said Daniel Spagnou, a member of a commission probing the fraught relationship between wolves and mountain herdsmen.
"What a circus! Whatever next? Wolf-tamers?"
After flood waters devastated the Catholic shrine at Lourdes in south west France this week, the mayor says his town is facing 'economic disaster,' while bosses at the pilgrimage site admit it may never recover from the 'catastrophe'. READ () »
France's national data protection agency on Thursday threatened to hit Google with a fine of up to €150,000, unless the US internet giant brought its privacy policies in line with French law within three months. READ () »
French authorities bidding to crack down on school test cheats obviously didn’t count on a 52-year-old woman "in elaborate make up" turning up to take an important high school English exam in Paris this week in place of her 19-year-old daughter. READ () »
Weather warnings remained in place across much of France on Thursday as unseasonal violent storms continued to wreak havoc in many regions. The storms have now claimed the lives of three people. Read the latest weather updates here. READ () »
Seventeen years after 230 passengers died on board a Paris bound flight from New York, six former investigators want the probe reopened, claiming the aircraft was brought down by an external explosion. A documentary will air in the US next month. READ () »
A decision by an EU parliament committee on Wednesday increased the prospect of France's far right leader, Marine le Pen, facing prosecution for previous remarks she made likening Islamic prayers to the Nazi occupation READ () »
For months the people of the tiny seaside hamlet of Larmor-Baden in Brittany have been living in fear as a serial arsonist has burned down properties at will. On Wednesday French police appeared to have made a breakthrough. READ () »
Flash floods in south west France claimed their second victim on Wednesday when a 75-year-old man was swept away to his death in the raging waters. The flooded Catholic shrine of Lourdes was like 'a scene from a disaster movie' according to one hotel owner. READ () »
As temperatures rise and the rains continue to fall, concerns in France have turned to the country’s surging mosquito population. A new interactive map looks set to give residents and holiday-makers a head start in avoiding those nasty mossie bites. READ () »
A reptile enthusiast died after being bitten by a viper during a demonstration in southern France, which was aimed to help audiences overcome their fear of snakes. The man died from a heart attack due to a rare allergy, his colleague told The Local. READ () »