An increase in the number of wolf attacks this year has led to calls for tough action to cut numbers.

"/> An increase in the number of wolf attacks this year has led to calls for tough action to cut numbers.

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Rise in wolf attacks alarms farmers

An increase in the number of wolf attacks this year has led to calls for tough action to cut numbers.

Rise in wolf attacks alarms farmers
Deborah Waller

A total of 1,300 animals are reported to have been killed in 118 separate wolf attacks so far this year, all in the south east of the country. There are believed to be between 150 and 200 wolves in France and the population is growing.

The highest number of attacks were in the Alpes-Maritimes region, which borders Italy. The wolf was reintroduced to France from Italy in 1992. 

Farmers now claim their spread is getting out of control and that measures need to be taken to cut the population down. By law, only six wolves a year can be legally killed.

“There are attacks everywhere and we have to stop protecting wolves,” Bernard Navet of the agricultural organisation FDSEA told daily newspaper Aujourd’hui.

The association claimed that the wolves are now nearing major conurbations, such as Grenoble, where attacks have occurred just 20 kilometres from the city.

Officials in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region approved a wolf-hunting licence on Monday after a weekend attack that left more than 70 sheep dead in the Ubaye valley. The wolf killed 10 sheep and a further 62 died after jumping into a ravine in panic.

Ecology minister Natalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on Sunday that she would meet a delegation of shepherds and elected officials this week to talk about intervention.

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France’s wolf population rises once again

France's wild wolf population rose again last year, with officials counting 580 adults at winter's end compared with an average of 530 a year ago, France's OFB biodiversity agency said Tuesday.

France's wolf population rises once again
A woman holds an image of a wolf as people take part in a demonstration of several wildlife conservation associations, to protest against the hunting of wolves. AFP

The government has been allowing grey wolves to multiply despite fierce resistance from livestock owners, who say they are suffering from increased attacks on their flocks.

But this winter's increase was slower than the 23 percent jump seen the previous year, and “survival rates declined,” the OFB said, adding that the causes remained unknown.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in France by the 1930s, but gradually started reappearing in the 1990s as populations spread across the Alps from Italy.

Their numbers have grown rapidly in recent years, prompting authorities to allow annual culls to keep their numbers in check, though the predator remains a protected species.

READ ALSO: Where in France will you find wolves?

Under a “Wolf Plan” adopted in 2018, the “viability threshold” of 500 animals, the level at which the population is likely to avoid becoming at risk of extinction over a 100-year period, was not expected to be reached until 2023.

Wolves are increasingly spotted across French territory, from the Pyrenees mountains as far north as the Atlantic coastal regions near Dieppe.

But “there are still no packs formed outside the Alps and Jura,” the heavily forested region near the Swiss border, the agency said.

The numbers are far below those found in Italy, Romania or Poland, but they have nonetheless infuriated French farmers who say the wolves are decimating their flocks.

Last year, authorities registered 3,741 wolf attacks that led to the deaths of nearly 12,500 animals, mainly sheep.

The government offers compensation for the losses and has set up a range of measures to protect flocks, including patrols by “wolf brigades” in areas where traditional anti-wolf measures, such as dogs, fenced-off areas and 
additional shepherding, have failed.

That has not been enough to assuage the powerful FNSEA agriculture lobby and other groups, which say they have to wait too long for compensation payments in the face of repeated attacks on their livelihood.