Monday, June 8, 2015

Wolf attack on French boy considered unlikely by wolf expert

A 16-year old from southeastern France says he got the "fright of my life" after being surrounded by a pack of nine wolves who only fled when he fired into the air

Wolf expert Geneviève Carbone said the scenario was unlikely as “wolves don’t approach villages and are invisible most of the time” Photo: Rex Features
 
A farmer’s son in southeastern France claims to have come under attack by a pack of fierce wolves who surrounded him and made it clear “I was their prey.”
France has become increasingly accustomed to tales of livestock being attack by wolves as the numbers of packs has steadily grown in recent years, but there have been no recorded cases of attacks on humans.

Romain Ferrand, 16, said that he was alone at the family cattle farm on Friday when he heard his father’s herd mooing and his dogs barking “much louder than normal.”
The teenager, who is recovering from a foot injury and requires a crutch to walk, phoned his brother Benjamin, 20, who rushed back to the farm as the father was out on a late-night delivery.
The pair said they drove up to the field where the cows were kept and left the vehicle carrying torches and their father’s hunting rifle.  “When we got near the herd, with the headlamps we could see eyes shining around the electric fence,” Romain told La Parisien.

His brother then decided to fetch the tractor to shine a stronger light on the scene, leaving Romain alone with a gun. “The wolves arrived at a very fast gait. At first, I thought they were attacking the calves. Then I understand that I was their prey,” he said.

Terrified as nine wolves, including four young animals, surrounded him, Romain said he fired a shot into the air “so as not to injure any cattle.” The teenager said the wolves ran off, but that since then he has not managed to sleep and has nightmares of being devoured by a wolf pack. "I got the fright of my life. I was sure they were going to leap on me,” he told local newspaper La Provence.

The father of the boy confirmed that the wolves - thought to number 13 - were becoming more of a threat in the area and had been seen rummaging through the family's bins at night. "They've been getting used to us for months. They're not scared anymore," he told La Provence, adding that wolves had killed one of his calves in recent weeks.

Some questioned whether the account of an apparent attack on humans was a bid to raise awareness about the growing numbers of wolf strikes on livestock. "We’re quite astonished by this tale, which has lots of inconsistencies,” said Jean-François Sarmstaedter, secretary general of the pro-wolf group Ferus. “Packs rarely have more than six to seven individuals and there are no cubs at this time of year. This sounds trumped-up.”

Wolf expert Geneviève Carbone said the scenario was unlikely as “wolves don’t approach villages and are invisible most of the time. There have been a few attacks on man, but these are extremely rare and happen in very precise situations, such as in India, when young children were struck when they were along and above all very weak.”  That said, she added, “there will always be a risk, as there is with dogs.”

Jean-Marc Moriceau, a wolf historian, said : “One has no right to claim wolves don’t attack man, that it’s just a legend.” He has gathered records of 10,000 wolf attacks on man in France from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century. Some 4,300 such attacks were by rabid wolves, while a further 5,300 were victims of “predatory wolves” that targeted “children between five and 15 as well as women who worked in the fields and prairies,” he said.

Wolves were hunted to extinction in France in the 1930s but in 1992, an alpha mating pair crossed the border from Italy. Since then, Canis lupus has spread throughout the French Alps, across the Rhône valley into the Massif Central and up the eastern border of France to the Jura and Vosges mountains. It recently reached the sparsely populated plains of eastern France, and last year wolves were spotted just 40 miles from Paris.  Today, there are at least 300 individuals in up to 25 packs across the country.

The number of sheep and cows killed by wolves rocketed by 30 per cent last year to reach 9,033 animals, according to government figures. The wolf is a protected species under the Berne convention and European law. It can no longer be hunted or poisoned.

Yet culls can exceptionally take place when all other attempts at protecting local livestock have failed. The government authorised such culls in the past year, but hunters only managed to shoot 19 beasts. The number could reportedly be raised to 36 this year due to the rising wolf population and number of attacks.

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