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WOLVES

France employs crack team of wolf hunters

France is set to employ an elite team of wolf hunters to help cull an ever-growing population that's fast spreading across the country.

France employs crack team of wolf hunters
Wolves are soon to be hunted by professionals in France. Photo Nio_Ni/Flickr
With over 8,000 sheep killed by wolves in the past 12 months, government heads have decided that it's time to take action against France's wolf population, which is estimated to total around 300. 
 
Environment Minister Ségolène Royal announced that ten wolf hunters would be recruited and trained before the end of August to help protect France's sheep population.
 
The minister noted that the number of wolf attacks has doubled in the past five years, no doubt largely thanks to the fact that their population has tripled since 2005.
 
The hunters will begin work in the areas that have been particularly hard hit by the wolves, including Provence and Hautes Alpes in the south. 
 
The news will no doubt come as a welcome relief for farmers, many of whom have been left furious after losing their livestock to wolves, often in large quantities. In April this year, a wolf killed 21 sheep at a farm in the French Alps. 
 
Concerns have been raised in France that the wolves are moving ever-closer to Paris. Last year, a lone wolf was spotted 250km from the capital, with an expert saying that wolves can move up to 400 kilometres a day and aren't afraid of human infrastructure like motorways. 
 

Wolves are soon to be hunted by professionals in France. Photo ErranAT/Flickr
 
One local official went as far as to make a call to draft in American hunters as local farmers have proved hapless at finding and killing the predators.

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 National Park in the south-east of the country.

Wildlife officials say that around 90 percent of France's wolves are in the Alps, and that there are 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.

Last year, French authorities increased the number of wolves which can be legally killed from 24 to 36.

SEE ALSO: Wolves continue their advance on Paris

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ANIMALS

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.

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