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French farmers take park boss hostage over wolf attacks

Valery Hache / AFP | A wolf in France's Mercantour National Park in 2012

Around 50 angry farmers held the head of a French national park hostage overnight Tuesday, demanding tougher measures against the region’s growing wolf population that they say is decimating their herds.


Vanoise National Park President Guy Chaumereuil, as well as his deputy Emmanuel Michau and a park ranger, were prevented from leaving a meeting hall near the town of Bramans in the south-eastern region of France late on Tuesday.

The trio, who were held overnight against their will but not harmed, were released in the early afternoon on Wednesday.

It is not yet clear if the park representatives plan on pressing charges against the sheep farmers.

Sheep farmer Bernard Mogenet, who heads the local FDSEA agricultural union and was one of the hostage takers, said he and his 50 associates held a “tense but constructive” meeting with the local police authorities following the park workers release.

“They said they will consider allowing six wolves to be killed by trained hunters between now and the end of the year, but only in areas outside the park itself,” he told FRANCE 24.

“We will see what happens,” he added. “If the permission is not given, or if they prevaricate in handing out the hunting licenses, we will not hesitate to break the law again.”

‘Intelligent and ruthless’

Mogenet’s deputy at the FDSEA, Jean-Claude Croze, was at the meeting hall on Wednesday morning to mediate between the shepherds and their hostages.

He said no one had been harmed but that the farmers were “at their wits end”.

“We are under huge pressure because of the wolves,” he told FRANCE 24, adding that “everything was fine until they started coming back to the region 15 years ago”.

Croze explained that all measures to protect herds, including the use of guard dogs which he said were just as likely to attack tourists as the wolves, had failed.

“Without aggressive dogs, shepherds have to keep a constant eye out for the wolves, which are incredibly intelligent and ruthless animals,” he said. “They know when shepherds are changing shifts, or if one stops to get a coffee or go to the toilet. That’s when they attack.”

“The constant stress, especially at night, is too much,” he added.

A growing population

Wolves once roamed across much of France but were eradicated in the 1930s as a result of aggressive hunting and poisoning.

The first wolves to return to French territory crossed over from Italy, where they were never fully eradicated, into the Mercantour National Park in the southern French Alps in the early 1990s.

There are now an estimated 300 wolves in France, where they are a strictly protected species. The population is growing at around 20% a year, with this highly territorial animal moving ever westwards as their numbers increase.

In June, the French government said permits would be issued for 36 wolves to be hunted and killed in 2015 in a bid to protect herds, up on 24 the previous year (only 19 wolves were actually killed).

The FDSEA said in a press release Tuesday that there were 130 attacks by wolves in the region in the last 12 months, up on 105 between July 2013 and July 2015.

According to French daily Le Monde on Wednesday, wolf attacks on livestock are doubling every five years, with 8,500 sheep killed by the animals this last year alone. 

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