Authorities in France have been forced to issue reminders that “cattle are not domestic animals” after a hiker was killed when his walking party was charged by a cow.
The fatal incident occurred on a path heading to the summit of the 1,580 peak Col d’Azet in the Hautes-Pyrénées region on Tuesday afternoon.
According to reports the group of walkers passed close by a herd of cows, near the village of Azet. One of the cows, who was accompanied by her calf, suddenly charged from the herd toward the elderly hiker and knocked him to the ground.
“The cows came down from the higher pastures crossed the path of the walkers and charged into the group and into this man, who was knocked to the ground,” Major Pascal Sancho, from the mountain rescue centre at nearby Saint-Lary, told France’s RTL radio.
“It was probably the fall that caused his death because he was not gored or trampled.”
The victim was taken to hospital in the town of Pau, where he died shortly after being admitted.
Four other walkers were injured in the attack including two children aged three and five. They were all admitted to hospital for observation.
France is a popular destination for trekking during the summer months, with the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Auvergne region among others, all drawing thousands of walkers, who come to enjoy the stunning scenery.
The network of footpaths often passes through farmland and authorities are warning walkers not to get too close to cattle.
“There must be a certain distance and do not approach them. They are not pets,” said Sancho. “When you see that they are heading in a particular direction it is best to give them priority.”
Sancho also said extra care must be taken if there are young animals among the herd, as was apparently the case on Tuesday.
“It must be remembered that mothers are protective of their young,” said adding that hikers should not allow their dogs to go anywhere near the cattle.
Incidents of cows charging walkers are rare in France but they do happen.
Two walkers were killed in within a matter of days in 2010 in separate incidents in the Pyrenees and the Alps when they were charged by cattle.
Earlier this year a man was trampled to death by cows in Wiltshire, Britain when he was out walking with his dog. His death was described a "freak accident".