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Wolves, since the 1930s almost extinct in France, again roam the Alpine ranges, protected by the 1979 Berne convention, which forbids the killing of the bear, the lynx and the wolf. The presence of more than 100 wolves in the mountains has forced the sheep breeders to revert to tried and tested methods to protect their sheep and lambs.
Just as they did a century ago, dogs guard the flocks at night, warning the shepherds of anything that approaches. Only a handful of animals are now attacked, whereas in 2004, the last year before the dogs returned, 102 ewes were killed in the Savoie district alone.
On the lower slopes at night the ewes are penned in fields with electric fences, which so far have proved impenetrable by even the most determined wolf. On the upper slopes, however, such fences are uneconomic and impractical. The only solution is to bring the ewes back from their feeding grounds and settle them close by the shepherds’ chalets, under the watchful eye of the dogs. The most dangerous days are when fog rolls in over the mountains, allowing the wolf to come much closer to his prey.
Bringing the lambs down from the high slopes every evening reduces their feeding time and this together with the extra exercise makes them leaner and less attractive at market. A breeder who would have received the equivalent of 700 Euros for a lamb 25 years ago will be lucky to make 100 Euros today. Although there are many reasons for the decline, including the basic law of supply and demand, the breeders would like more to be done to keep their oldest predator at bay.
Areas in orange designate places inhabited by wolves
From our February 2008 newsletter