30 years ago, the wolf made its return to France in the Mercantour national park

Although they had been missing for nearly 60 years, these wild animals were spotted in 1992 in the Mercantour National Park.

It had been 30 years, almost today. On November 5, 1992, in Le Boréon, two guardians of the Mercantour National Park and an ONF agent observed two wolves on French territory for the first time since 1937. Five months later, the Mercantour National Park revealed this information to the press. .

An event that marks the beginning of the great return of the animal to France. 30 years later, the wild dog has been seen in Provence, Brittany and even on the outskirts of Paris.

20 packs in the Maritime Alps

In the Maritime Alps, 30 years after the appearance of the first group in the Upper Vésubie, the French Office for Biodiversity has identified about twenty herds, composed on average of six individuals. The number of wolves in the department is therefore estimated at 120, a figure that has been growing steadily since 1992.

“We hoped that the population would stabilize around 2015, but in our country we are experiencing a phenomenon of tightening of the territory of the herds, this is something that did not exist in the scientific literature”, explains Louis Bernard, director of the French Office for biodiversity in the Maritime Alps.

“Today we are reaching the end of this logic and the population should no longer increase here,” he adds.

Inverted breeding methods

Since the mid-1990s, attacks on herds have multiplied. At the moment of his return, a rumor spreads in the villages of the valleys: the wolf would have been intentionally reintroduced secretly by man. Repeatedly denied by the authorities, this theory is still very widespread among breeders. The latter are based in particular on the vague conclusions of a parliamentary inquiry in 2003, chaired by Christian Estrosi, which reads:

“The truth probably lies between the two: […] a natural return of the wolf from Italy […] it is entirely possible and the genetic analyzes carried out since 1996 confirm this possibility, obviously without demonstrating it. Likewise, clandestine releases of wolves are likely to have occurred. “

The return of the predator has completely transformed the way animals are raised in the mountains of the region. Before his return, the animals were in total autonomy on the mountain pastures. The owner let them graze on their own while he worked to collect the hay.

The ancient traditions return

The return of the wolf is also that of a lost profession, that of the shepherd, since the presence of the animal again justifies the surveillance of the flock.

The guard dogs are back too. The famous “Patou” protect animals, but also cause new conflicts of use between hikers and farmers. The latter has also set up a closed parking system by grouping the animals in an enclosure near the fold at nightfall.

Methods to which the wolf has adapted: in the 1990s, 80% of attacks occurred at night. 30 years later, the statistic has turned around; now 80% of attacks occur during the day, indicates the prefecture.

A de facto coexistence

The wolf is a totally protected species in France and Europe. However, the state authorizes the removal of a certain number of people. In the Maritime Alps, an average of 39 wolves are killed each year. Since January, 43 of them have been killed.

The department is the one where the animal is killed the most in France and alone represents 29% of the total samples. The law now authorizes breeders to shoot the wolf in case of repeated attacks, but these shots must be previously expressly authorized by the prefecture.

On average, 800 wolf attacks occur annually in the Alpes-Maritimes, a stable figure according to the prefecture. The inherent mortality of the latter was significantly reduced. One attack now kills three beasts on average.

Losses compensated by the state, which pays around 200 euros per lost animal. Sometimes difficult compensation, while the carcass of the killed animal is essential to obtain it. “We found a rhythm,” said Louis Bernard. “The breeder who is the victim of an attack is not abandoned. Today, even if the breeders are obviously suffering, there is a balance,” he says.

Vocational crisis among breeders

Even with the financial support of the state, the livestock sector is suffering from a serious vocational crisis in the Maritime Alps. In a few decades, the stock of mother sheep in the department has halved, from 60,000 to 30,000 head.

Each year, on average, three farmers settled in the department retire without being replaced, according to the 06 chamber of agriculture.

If this vocation crisis has several factors, the return of the wolf is one of the causes of the decrease in the number of breeders, as the younger generations are discouraged by the repeated attacks of their herds.

Charles De Quillacq with Sarah Boumghar

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