Farmers who have decided to live with the wolf: Nicolas Balverde
After several experiences in the field learning about the ecology of the wolf, in 2015 I decided to help a sheep farmer who had experienced attacks. With the “Pastoraloup” project led by the French NGO Ferus I was based in the Alps in the massif of Estroz at an altitude of 2100 metres. The sheep farmer had a herd of 800 sheep led by a shepherd who guarded them during the 5 months of summer mountain pasture.
The goal of this project is to help farmers and assist the shepherds in protecting their sheep at night to limit attacks from predators, like wolves. This meant that as of 8pm, I would regularly tour the sheep’s resting place and observe their behaviour, looking for the first signs of the presence of a predator.
Life in the mountains
I arrived one evening in August just after a summer storm. The tops of the mountains were shrouded in fog, and visibility was almost zero. We had to walk for 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the pastures, with a 900 meters climb. As we arrived, I saw a dog that had died of a wolf attack the day before. 5 sheep had also been killed.
At around 7pm I arrived at the shepherd's hut and I found a good meal by Claude’s wife (shepherd’s fictional name), waiting for me.
In the morning after my night with the sheep, I watched the wild sheep roaming. Then Claude arrived with his flock, I heard them go for their morning walk and the “senailles”, the typical small bells around the neck of the sheep, ringing in the clear air. They come to drink. I used to enjoy a talk with Claude. We would put the world to rights as we smoked our hand-rolled cigarettes, breathing clouds of smoke into the beautiful blue August sky.
Claude had been working for 30 years with sheep and spent almost every summer in the Haute- Provence Alps and the Alpes-Maritimes. He saw wolves coming back where previously they were nearly extinct, causing him the stress of not sleeping at night and finding his sheep dead or wounded the day after.
Claude loves the mountains and believes that the wolf is a wild animal representing the beauty of nature. He accepts his comeback, but he will not allow the wolf to come close to his flock.
He told me about the reimbursement he got for the loss of one of his sheep. The compensation is generous, which is why some shepherds do not use any protection against wolves. But these same payments often come late. It is a harsh reality. The amount of paperwork required is also vast, making it a very complicated system.
My encounter with the wolf
On my last day, at 4pm I saw a wolf about 30 metres from me. He stopped and took a moment to look at me and then left. It was a beautiful moment. During my stay, wolves came often at night to test my confidence and the courage of the dogs, but they did not manage to attack our herd.
This interview was done by WWF EPO in March 2016
About Nicolas Balverde
Nicolas Balverde is an environmental engineer and president of an association for the protection of nature, the CERFF (Campagne d'Éducation Respectueuse de la Faune et de la Flore) based in the department of Haute-Savoie in France.