Once hunted to extinction, wolves are making a steady comeback in France and now about a third of the country reports a regular or semi-regular wolf presence.
The wildlife group Réseau Loup Lynx (the wolf and lynx network) has recently confirmed that wolves are now permanent inhabitants of the Doubs département as well as the Jura.
This brings the total number of départements where wolves have been regularly sighted to 38.
Wolves are mostly concentrated in the east of the country, but are also frequently spotted in the Pyrenees along the border with Spain and in southern départements.
There are 23 départements where there is a regular wolf presence – mostly in mountainous areas along the border with Italy and Switzerland, and a further 15 places where they have been occasionally spotted.
The French Office national de la chasse et de la faune sauvage (national office for hunting and wildlife) which monitors wolves estimates that there are now around 530 adult wolves living in France.
In the Jura, after photos and videos were taken of the wolves living and hunting in the mountains, the area has been declared a permanent habitat for wolves and named the Zone du Marchairuz after a local mountain pass.
Wolves were officially declared extinct in France in the 1930s after hunting wiped out the last remaining populations.
But from 1992 onwards they were steadily reintroduced, starting with the regions bordering Italy, and their numbers have been increasing in recent years.
Their presence has not been without problems, however, especially from farmers who fear for their livelihoods when wolves start killing sheep.
French farmers Toulouse protest about the reintroduction of wolves and bears to the countryside. Photo: AFP
The French state authorises the culling of a certain number of wolves per year to keep the population in check, but the killings can only be carried out under strict conditions.
Last year 3,674 wolf attacks led to the deaths of some 12,500 animals, mainly sheep.
Under a “Wolf Plan” adopted in 2018, the “viability threshold” of 500 animals, the level at which the population is likely to avoid becoming at risk of extinction over a 100-year period, wasn’t expected to be reached until 2023.
Projections of rapid growth had already prompted President Emmanuel Macron to announce in March this year that 17 to 19 percent of the population would be culled each year, up from 10 to 12 percent.
However in June 2019 the cull limit was raised again after quicker than expected growth in the wolf populations.
“We now consider that the wolf is no longer a species at risk of extinction, which is a good thing in terms of biodiversity,” said Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume.
“However in terms of the high levels of preying… we have to fully and strongly support our farmers. Their well-being is our priority,” he said.