A group of 50 farmers are holding hostage the president and director of a national park in the Alps, demanding they take urgent action to stop wolves attacking their livestock
By Henry Samuel, Paris
French farmers have kidnapped the head of a national park in the Alps, demanding stronger measures against wolves that are attacking their flocks.
France’s rising wolf population is causing concern for many sheep farmers, mainly from Provence to the Hautes Alpes area.
The number of wolf attacks nationwide has doubled in the past five years and the population – now at around 300 – has tripled since 2005.
The government has authorised a limited number of wolf culls in areas with high numbers of attacks, but farmers say more must be done to protect their livestock.
Around 50 farmers took the law into their own hands on Tuesday evening by taking hostage Guy Chaumereuil, president of the National Park of Vanoise in the French Alps, along with the park’s director, Emmanuel Michau.
They seized the pair after a public meeting on the park’s new charter in the town of Bramans. The pair are being held in the municipal hall.
France has become accustomed to “bossnapping” over the years during labour disputes, but this is thought to be the first time an official has been held over a wolf dispute.
A statement from the leading farmer’s union FDSEA in the Savoie region said: “Farmers are demanding the authorisation to kill wolves in the heart of the park and to establish effective means to remove five wolves by the end of the year.”
“The farmers have reached their limit, they can’t take anymore. Every night they are in permanent stress,” said Jean Claude Croze, from the local branch of FDSEA.
In a tract released on Wednesday, the farmers also called “the exclusion of wolves from all pastoral areas”.
Vanoise was the first national park created in France. On its Alpine slopes huge flocks of up to 1,500 sheep graze under the watchful eye of shepherds and powerful Pyrenean guard dogs known as “patous” – chosen because they are capable of taking on a wolf.
Despite this, the wolves manage to inflict damage – either by slaughtering the animals themselves or by chasing them off ravines in large numbers.
According to farmers there have been 130 deadly attacks against livestock this summer in the park, against 105 last year, and they fear the numbers will increase.
The local state prefect was due to meet the farmers in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne on Wednesday afternoon on condition they release their hostages.
The farmers are demanding that they raise the issue of regulating the wolf population at the next board meeting of the national park.
The government recently announced the deployment of an elite team of wolf hunters to protect sheep. Wolves have killed 8,500 sheep in France in the past 12 months.
Ségolène Royal, the environment minister, announced over the summer that ten wolf hunters would be recruited and trained before the end of August and begin work in the Hautes Alpes and Provence.
The wolf is protected by the Bern Convention on European wildlife, and in 2007 it joined other mammals on a list of species that in France are given special protection, except in specific cases where they pose a threat.
Last year, French authorities increased the number of wolves that can be legally killed from 24 to 36. However, so-called “wolf lieutenants” only managed to cull 19 last year – five below the permitted maximum.
On Wednesday, three French environmental groups announced that they would seize France’s Council of State insisting that the higher figures and relaxed rules on shooting wolves “contravene” EU legislation.
“Wolf culls have in no way effective in protecting livestock. Attacks continue on flocks that are not sufficiently protected and can even increase with such shootings, which disorganise the packs,” said the groups.
“The French state must go back to the drawing board in terms of handling the wolf.”