Ever since 1992, when a couple of Italian wolves crossed the international border with France, the predators have multiplied in the southern mountains where domestic sheep are ubiquitous.
In 2016, wolves killed 10,000 of the defenceless grazers, and the French government paid out three million Euro in compensation to farmers, an increase of 10% over the previous year.
Wolves are protected by the dictates of the European Union, headquartered in Brussels. Hunting them is illegal, unless very special circumstances pertain, for instance where wolves threaten someone’s livelihood or people.
But French sheep herders want the right to shoot them on sight, for wolves have become too numerous and all recommended measures to limit their predation, such as electric fencing and guard dogs, have failed to work.
To underline their demands for government action, the farmers have taken their flocks into regional capitals, including Paris, where the sheep were blocking major traffic arteries.
The issue is driving a wedge of intense frustration between farmers and the increasingly vocal environmentalists. Official government opinion is divided. Nicholas Hulot, France’s minister of the environment, said that he ‘rejoices in the return of the wolf.’ Yet, he allowed a cull of 40 wolves, 10-13% of the country’s estimated population.
His counterpart in Germany told the news media that farmers cannot take the law in their own hands. But the complaints from livestock producers have been joined by German hunters. A national organisation is increasingly advocating for wolf controls and has presented a petition to the European Commission.
The Swedish government bypassed EU rules and permitted local hunting groups to conduct substantial culls, raising heckles in Brussels, which threatened the Swedes with court action.
Wolf controls that environmentalists have termed ‘a mass slaughter’ are taking place in Norway, where hunters shot 70% of the country’s population of 68 wolves. The major reason is to protect free-ranging domestic sheep.
Wolf, red fox and seal skins at a Norwegian fur market in Bergen.
According to Italian wolf scientist, Luigi Boitana, a long-serving director of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the current tension between wolves and humans is ‘simply a continuation of a conflict running for 3000 years.’
Ever since our humanoid ancestors left their evolutionary niche in tropical woodlands and ventured forth into the open savannah, they had to live with wolves.
No doubt, opportunistic stone age nomads took advantage of the remains of wolf kills, as so many other omnivores and carnivores still do today. But the relationship between wolves and humans underwent a drastic change with man the shepherd.