Fifty sheep killed, and as many injured… Sunday, four were hit by an attack in Reilhac, which they survived. The defendant? The wolf, which continues to plague the department.
A new attack, this Monday, in Reilhac. Four ewes were injured by the wolf, but survived this assault, according to Étienne Fouché, president of the sheep union and breeder himself. Since its official presence on May 30, the animal has killed 51 ewes and injured 54 others, according to figures from the prefecture and the French Office for Biodiversity. All in 32 attacks, on 15 farms. But always in the same area: the central Causse, from Reilhac via Fontanes or even Lunegarde. The prefecture says that 13 other attacks are being analyzed to find out if the wolf is involved.
A real predator lurking
“This wolf, a 3-year-old male, is not passing through,” says the president of the sheep union. If at the moment he has no companions, the possibility that other specimens will be attracted is not excluded. But, alone, it already does a lot of damage. “He can attack herds every two to three days. Sometimes, these are repeated attacks on farms already affected. The worst is that he does not necessarily kill to eat”, confides, with a heavy heart, Étienne Fouché. Sometimes the wolf just hurts the animals. A real predator in short. Sometimes the beast breaks the fences and therefore dispatches the herd into several groups. “After the breeders take two days to gather the ewes”, blows the farmer, who was not personally affected by an attack.
The breeders are exhausted: “when they get up in the morning, they never know what they are going to find. They are starting to lose their morale, to be demotivated and worried”, indicates the farmer. Some have requested psychological support from the MSA (Mutualité sociale agricole) as the pain is so acute.
“Two breeders saw him in the middle of the day”
“We are doing with it for the moment, even it is out of the question to accept his presence on our territory. […] We have few solutions”, delivers the president of the sheep union. On June 22, the department triggers the wolf plan. “We can defend our herds with firearms, declares Étienne Fouché. But he is a timid and intelligent animal, you never really know where he is. By chance, two breeders saw him in the middle of the day but did not have time to react”. Moreover, he considers that it is a scaring measure. “We cannot spend whole nights doing fear of the wolf to protect our animals. A breeder has, on average, 500 to 600, it is impossible to succeed in preserving everyone,” he explains.
Guard dogs, a fake good idea?
Another possibility: electrify the fences, or bring the sheep into the barn at night. “As an additional measure of additional protection, 12 electrified containment parks are available to breeders”, indicates the prefecture. “In the field, it’s unfeasible. Especially in times of drought. The ewes eat at night, during the day they are in the shade so they no longer eat,” he says. At this time, the sheep are supposed to be outside all the time, and have unlimited access to resources. Inside, they have to be fed differently. An additional cost for already weakened breeders. The procedure for compensating breeders was initiated by the DDT (Departmental Directorate of Territories) on the basis of the findings of the French Office for Biodiversity.
So, last resort: guard dogs, the miracle solution? Not necessarily. Étienne Fouché takes an example: “For a farm of three hundred ewes which are grouped into three groups, it would take 9 guard dogs in all, or 3 per group. It’s a hell of a cost”, deplores the farmer. In addition, the dog must be born on the farm to be properly trained. Étienne Fouché concludes, sadly: “If the wolf stays around, it’s the death of sheep farming guaranteed within 10 years”.