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Reader question: Do I need to worry about wolves and bears in the French countryside?

The Local France
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Reader question: Do I need to worry about wolves and bears in the French countryside?
Photo of wolves taken on 17 October 2006 at Saint-Martin-Vésubie, France (Photo by VALERY HACHE / AFP)

If you're hiking or camping in France you might come across signs that say 'Pays de l'Ours' (bear country) - so does that mean that we need to worry about bears or wolves in the French countryside?

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France has its fair share of wild animals, and some are dangerous, but perhaps not the ones you would expect.

How big of a danger are wolves and bears?

France is currently home to around 1,104 wolves. They have an 'habitual presence' in around half of French départements and their numbers have been on the rise since the 1990s.

READ MORE: 13 of France’s best hiking and cycling routes

When it comes to bears, the latest estimates show the country is home to 83 brown bears, all living in the Pyrenees mountains, south-west France.

Much to the frustration of French farmers, the rising wolf population has led to an increase in attacks on sheep and other domestic animals, with some farm animals killed. Most of these incidents occurred in south-eastern France.

In 2023 France recorded 349 incidents in which 'bear involvement cannot be ruled out' - none of which involved humans. Likewise around 1,000 incidents of possible wolf attack on farm animals were recorded, while no attacks on humans appear in the data.

Listen to our Talking France team discuss dangerous animals in our latest podcast episode.

Comparatively, some 500,000 people in France are bitten by dogs each year, according to insurance figures, and of these about 60,000 people require hospitalisation. In France alone, there were 33 deaths from dog bites between 1990 and 2010.

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In response to the rising wolf population, many French farmers are now using dogs known as Patous to protect their flocks. These dogs may look cuddly, but they are very territorial and may be provoked by you or your dog getting too close to the flock of sheep.

The Patou dog guards a flock of sheep grazing in a prairie in southern France. (Photo by ERIC CABANIS / AFP)

France's wolf and bear population generally shy away from human contact and you're unlikely to see either while enjoying time in the countryside.

Nevertheless, if you go hiking in the French mountains, it is best to keep your dog close by or on a leash, stay on existing paths and trails (if you go off the path, you can make noise to announce your presence), decrease strong smells from food by washing and cleaning up food at least 50m away from your campsite.

What about other dangerous animals?

In reality, bears and wolves are less of a concern to the average person in France than other, more common, animals.

READ MORE: What are the most dangerous animals in France?

Wild boar (sanglier) they are typically timid and avoid contact with people - in fact, they can smell humans from quite a distance and will usually try to stay away.

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Still, there are over a million wild boar in France, and one of your greatest risks is getting into an accident or hitting one while driving on country roads late at night, so be sure to go the speed limit and keep your lights on.

In rural areas, some people have issues with boar getting into their gardens or trash bins. Setting up some fencing can help - while some blogs suggest peeing in your garden to strengthen the 'human' smell.

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Insects

Statistically, the greatest dangers in the French countryside are the smallest ones - every year around 30,000 people contract Lyme Disease from a tick bite.

Rising temperatures have also brought other insects, such as Asian hornets (frelon asiatique) and tiger mosquitoes to France. 

While Asian hornets are more dangerous to other bees than people (they decimate local bee populations), they are still responsible for killing around five people a year, usually those who have serious bee allergies.

Meanwhile the black and white tiger mosquito can spread diseases including dengue fever or zika - these diseases can be fatal, although that is rare if you’re lucky enough to have access to good healthcare.

Tiger mosquitoes have been steadily moving north as the weather warms and this year for the first time have been reported in Normandy.

READ MORE: MAP: Tiger mosquitoes reach northern France

And talking of stings, the warming seas mean jellyfish are becoming a lot more common. Some species, like the Portuguese Man O War, can give a very painful and potentially fatal sting.

You may see beaches closed due to high jellyfish numbers during heatwaves, for example.

Risk of death

Statistically, the most dangerous animal in France is an unexpected one - cows.

There are on average 225 incidents involving male cattle each year in France, although most of them affect farm-workers, while cows can also be aggressive, especially if they have calves with them.

If you're walking in the countryside be sure to give plenty of space to any cattle that you pass, and keep dogs on a lead.

 

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