The French government has dispatched a team of hunters in the French Alps in order to cull the native wolf population. The laws regarding wolf culling in France have been relaxed over recent years but this wolf cull is a step up.
Wolves are a protected species under European law and thus hunting is illegal. In the past, if a farmer could prove his livestock were attacked at least twice in three years, the farmer would be permitted to shoot wolves on his land. Government marksmen are also free to kill wolves if ordered to, as they have been in previous years. Legally the issue is somewhat contentious, with many arguing that Frances “native” wolf population were hunted to extinction in the 1930’s and that any wolves there today are an introduced species. Others argue that the wolves were there first and farmers have to accept the risk.
19 wolves were confirmed as being culled legally last year in France, possibly with more killed illegally. Now the government aims to kill 36 wolves in the coming year along with allowing farmers more freedom to shoot wolves. The news comes only weeks after wolves reportedly attacked a 16 year old, Romain Ferrand, although campaigners say the story is false.
According to Romain Ferrand, “The wolves arrived at an incredible speed. At first I thought they were after the calves. Then I realised I was the prey.” Romain said he fired a shotgun into the air and the wolves fled.” Not to split hairs here but since when did a wolf approaching and then running away constitute an attack? The story is contentious with a lot of sources citing it as a hoax. However it is being used as a reason for the cull.
French farmers, in a bid to attract attention and prompt government action, recently kidnapped the people who run the national parks in the Alps. They were later released and the government appears to have given in to their demands.
The cull figure of 36 wolves is a particular issue. When the initial cull was suggested (and rejected) in 2004, the courts were told that there were only around 40 wolves in the area, with the population increasing by about 20% each year. The current reports claim 8,500 sheep were killed last year by wolves. Clearly the numbers being used are extremely loose estimates, as the figure of 8,500 sheep deaths is far too high for the estimated number of wolves.
If we look into the cull we see the usual problematic effects of culling. As I wrote previously the badger cull in the UK actually increases bovine TB. Much as cougar hunting leads to more cougar attacks on livestock. Similarly wolf culling increases the likelihood that wolves will attack sheep. Basically if the leaders of a wolf pack are removed, the pack will splinter into several packs which will then hunt separately and kill more livestock. This is a relatively well-known phenomenon which makes it increasingly puzzling that the French government have responded this way. Other than saving face politically the cull achieves nothing. There are many methods for scaring wolves from livestock, ranging from lights and fences to guard dogs. These methods were trialled in the USA and resulted in 30 sheep and 0 wolves being killed in the 7-year study period. In light of the evidence it seems that dispatching a team of hunters with night vision goggles, rifles and helicopters is possibly not the best idea. In fact it is probably the worst possible idea but it will show that the government has done something which is likely the reason behind it.