Wolves are one of the hot button topics in conservation with proponents pushing expansion and reintroduction. Bitter opponents seek eradication. French wolves provide some answers about the cost of coexistence. But French wolves kill an increasing number of domestic animals.
Wolves were common in France. They were intensely hunted in the 19th Century. Canis lupus was eradicated from the country by the start of World War Two. Wolves returned to France from Italy about the turn of the 21st Century.
Today, there are an estimated 538 wolves in France. Having entered from the Italian region they have been steadily moving into other parts of the country. It is estimated their numbers are growing between 10 and 20 percent per year.
That growth rate is not without cost as the French authorities estimate the wolves kill 15,000 head of livestock annually. The French wolves kill sheep, cattle, goats and horses. That equates to 9 head per wolf annually. The number appears to be rising.
” More worryingly, the number of livestock victims has been increasing linearly and almost constantly over the last 12 years, with 1,000 more animals killed each year. Predation strongly impacts livestock systems that practice grazing, whether in the mountains, hilly regions or even in the plains. In the French alpine region, an area where wolves have been present for a quarter century, more than 90% of successful attacks take place on farms that have adopted the recommended means of protection, a condition verified by OFB staff who have assessed the damage. The indirect impacts of predation should not be forgotten either: following attacks, the animals are stressed and, in addition to abortions and loss of body condition, they sometimes refuse to graze for 2 to 3 years on the places where they have experienced a wolf attack.”
France, like other nations with wolf populations, is exploring co-existence measures. Better fencing, guard dogs, enclosing animals at night, increased human monitoring an compensation for loss by predation are among the methods being used. But the rate of loss continues. Even in regions where the recommended protections are enacted French wolves kill livestock.
Compensation for loss appears to be an equitable solution. But proving a wolf killed an animal can be problematic. Sometimes animals simply disappear when wolves are around. If proof is lacking payment may not be made. Ranchers also complain that the compensation method is slow and cumbersome.
The French experience is in line with fears by anti-wolf organizations in the United States where wolf re-introduction efforts are meeting stiff resistance from ranchers and other stakeholders. It is beyond doubt that wolves destroy livestock. In one incident 143 panicked sheep stampeded and died of suffocation or injury. Two wolves chased the sheep.
Ranchers point to the growing gulf between people who produce food and wool and the people who consume. They say city dwellers have no idea of the cost of producing meat, wool, milk and cheese. Urbanites have a romanticized idea of what wolves are and what predation means, they say. Defenders counter that the damages are exaggerated and that the wolf is a vital part of the ecosystem. Middle ground is hard to find.