Walkers warned after cow kills hiker in Pyrenees

Hikers in France have been warned about the dangers of herds of cattle after an 85-year-old walker was killed in the Pyrenees when a cow charged at him. Four others, including two children, were left injured.

Walkers warned after cow kills hiker in Pyrenees
Cows in the Pyrenées. Walkers in France have been warned of the dangers of getting too near cattle.

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".

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France confirms first case of mad cow disease since 2011

France has found an "isolated" case of mad cow disease, its first occurrence since 2011, the agriculture ministry said Thursday.

France confirms first case of mad cow disease since 2011
Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP file picture

The ministry said the case of BSE had been detected in the northeastern region of the Ardennes, near the Belgian border.

“A suspected case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), detected in a five-year-old cow which died prematurely at a cattle farm in Ardennes, was confirmed on March 23 by the European Union reference laboratory,” it said in a statement.

The announcement comes at a difficult time in France's key farming sector where the beef, pork and milk sectors have seen prices collapse due to falling sales to China and especially a Russian embargo on most Western food imports in retaliation for sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

The crunch in French agriculture has been compounded by a price war with wholesalers and sparked months of angry protests.

The agriculture ministry said that the Ardennes BSE case had been reported to the European Commission and the Paris-based veterinary watchdog, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

It also sought to reassure consumers. “The detection of this case has no impact for the consumer,” it said.

About 100 cattle will be slaughtered within a month, as per the rules in such cases, following the discovery of the BSE case, the ministry said.

The affected cows would be those aged one year older or younger than the infected cow that died and which may have been exposed to the same feeding source, the ministry told AFP.

“That makes about 100 cattle” out of the 400 cows of the same breed at the Ardennes farm, for which the breeder will be compensated, it said.

The ministry also sought to reassure consumers. “The detection of this case has no impact for the consumer,” it said.

BSE is a brain-destroying disease among cattle that sparked a scare in the 1990s when it was found it could also be transmitted to humans who ate beef infected with the agent, a rogue protein called a prion.

The epidemic — of which Britain was the epicentre — was traced to the use of infected carcasses recycled for animal feed, prompting dozens of countries to strengthen veterinary controls.

The number of cases has plummeted, although isolated occurrences persist, according to a tally by the OIE.

In 2015, there were single cases in Canada, Ireland, Norway and Slovenia, as well as two cases in Britain, the OIE said on its website Thursday.

At the height of the disease, at least 27 people were killed in France.