French farmers take sheep flocks to Eiffel Tower to protest 'govt-protected' wolves

French farmers take sheep flocks to Eiffel Tower to protest 'govt-protected' wolves
French farmers herded their sheep to the Eiffel Tower on Thursday to protest against the growing number of attacks on their flocks by wolves, which they argue are protected by the government.

The farmers brought around 250 sheep to central Paris to demand action from government ministers to stop the attacks on their flocks, which have increased dramatically in recent years.

One of the protesters was dressed as a wolf while carrying around a lamb. Another held a banner reading: “Today famers, tomorrow unemployed.”

The farmers and their sheep are due to meet with French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll later on Thursday.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in France, like in many other European countries, but crossed over the Alps into France from Italy in the 1990s. They now number about 300 and are a protected species.

One of the predators was caught on camera within 250 km of Paris in April, The Local reported.

There have been 4,800 attacks on sheep by wolves so far this year – 1,000 more than in 2013, according to official figures from the French Sheep Organization (FNO), AFP reported.

“There is nothing natural about being eaten by wolves. We are against wolves from the moment they attack our farms,” said Claude Font, head of a sheep farmers association in the Auvergne region in central France. Although the wolves originally were confined to the southeast near the Italian border, they have now migrated to central and southwestern France.

The continued threat of wolf attacks on sheep is “an enormous daily stress, it is omnipresent and oppressive, farmers around me feel helpless. Those who wanted to overprotect them are going to kick themselves. The wolf reproduces and moves around very fast,” said Claire, a sheep farmer in the Alpine region of Drone, located in the country’s southeast.

The farmers also say that France’s so-called “wolf plan,” which pays farmers compensation for sheep killed by wolves, is a waste of money. It cost €15 million euros in 2012.

“We don’t want the money, we want to be able to do our job in good conditions,” said Michele Boudoin, secretary general of the FNO.

Sheep are gathered in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris during a demonstration of shepherds against the protection of wolves in France November 27, 2014. (Reuters / Jacky Naegelen)

The farmers are asking for wolves to be removed from sheep breeding regions, and the right to shoot wolves immediately if their flock is attacked. They are also calling for the quota in the number of wolves they are allowed to kill to be scrapped, or at least increased from the current 24 wolves allowed annually.

The farmers are gaining some support from the French government. In June, Environment Minister Segolene Royal stepped into the debate.

“The damage to herders has become too great. The distress of the farmers and their families should be better taken into account,” she said in a statement.

But the wolves do have some friends in France. Patrick Boffy is head of Ferus in the Southern Alps, the first French region to see the wolf return in the 1990s. Ferus is an organization that was set up to help protect wolves, bears, and lynxes.

He says that in some places – such as steep, rocky terrain – farmers should simply leave. In other areas, they must learn to cohabit with the wolf.

"It's a bit like asking what is the point of an eagle, or a piece of music, or a painting. The wolf is part of life. It returned naturally to France – the only southern European country where it had disappeared,” he told the BBC.