French farmers cry wolf over sheep killings

Paris | Reuters — French farmers, who regularly bring livestock into Paris to punctuate their protests, drove some 250 sheep into the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on Thursday to highlight an unusual concern — that a growing wolf population is killing their flocks.

Wolves were reintroduced to France in the 1990s under an international convention on wildlife conservation in Europe.

There are now an estimated 300 wolves in the country and the number is growing each year. According to France’s Federation nationale ovine (FNO), the national sheep producers’ organization, the number of animals they kill has risen too — by nearly two thirds since 2011 — and is likely to top 8,000 this year.

“We are asking that wolves be removed from sheep breeding regions because they are incompatible with our work,” FNO secretary general Michele Boudoin said.

She stressed that France’s “wolf plan,” which compensates farmers for sheep losses and pays for prevention measures and staff, cost the government nearly 15 million euros (C$21 million) in 2012.

“We don’t want the money, we want to do our job in good conditions,” she said as a flock of brown “Noires de Velay” sheep arrived at the meeting point.

Luc Bourgeois, a young shepherd from southeastern France, said he lost 150 of his 3,000 sheep this year. Ten were killed directly, he said, while the rest jumped in a ravine as they fled.

The farmers want the right to shoot wolves immediately if their flock is attacked, and are calling for a quota of wolf killings, currently set at 24 annually, to be increased or removed altogether.

Members of the FNO and the wider farm union FNSEA were due to meet Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and the head of the environment minister’s chief of staff later in the day.

Reporting for Reuters by Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris.

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