A sheep farmer called Daniel said 21 of his animals were massacred in the early hours of Tuesday on the outskirts of Roquebillière, an Alpine village that is home to 1,600 people in south-eastern France, Europe 1 reports.
The farmer was furious that wolves, which have no natural predator, were protected and allowed to roam free, saying France had given “human stupidity” priority over the welfare of local families.
Village mayor Gérard Manfredi stressed just how close the wolves had come to prowling the streets of the village.
“It’s the first time we’ve had an attack in the village. It took place 50 metres from my own house and 100 metres from the church,” he told Europe 1.
A dozen sheep were killed outright, while others were so badly injured they had to be put down.
Officials from the agriculture ministry were expected to arrive at the scene on Wednesday to confirm that the sheep had in fact been killed by wolves.
According to the ministry, 2,800 sheep were killed by wolves last year in the Alpes-Maritime department where Roquebillière is located. This accounted for a third of all sheep deaths attributed to wolf attacks.
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 south-east of the country.
Wildlife officials say there are around 250 wolves, 90 percent of them in the Alps, and scatterings of others in the east and south-west of France, including the eastern Pyrenees.
In 2011, a wolf was spotted for the first time in the Vosges, in eastern France, and a year later a wolf was photographed in a cornfield in the south-western department 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.
Emotions flared in 2013 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 wolf packs in the Vincennes Park or the Luxembourg Gardens,” he said — a suggestion that was not adopted.
France allows for 24 wolves to be culled each year.
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