Shepherds who have decided to live with the wolf

Posted on April, 04 2016

A view from the field
A field experience.
My name is Julien Davy; I'm 33 years old, French and currently looking for a job. In September 2015, I volunteered for the ‘Pastoraloup’ project and spent some months in the Alps in France to help a shepherd monitor his herds of sheep in an area inhabited by wolves.

The goal of this project is to assist shepherds in protecting their sheep at night to limit attacks from predators, like wolves.
The wolf is there, so we have to deal with it!
"The wolf is there and we have to deal with it" this is what the shepherd told me when I reached his farm. He even showed respect towards this wild animal.

Now, if the wolf were to attack his sheep, especially the older and weak ones, he would not hesitate to shoot him. He had a warning weapon only, not a killing one.
We can protect herds against the teeth of hungry wolves
As I could see during my stay in the mountains:  there are some effective devices to protect sheep against a wolf attack.

The park where I was had fox lights, for example, that emitted bright flashes of light at irregular intervals at night and it was surrounded by two electrified wires and a 1,80 m high protection wire. So we could say that the herd was well protected! In addition, the use of bells around the neck of the sheep was a good warning to prevent a possible attack.
We had no guard dog, but this was mainly due to unusual small size of our flock, that counted only 74 animals. Guard dogs are more effective for larger herds that graze on much bigger pastures.
Flocks of too great a number
Another important factor to consider is the size of the flock we have to defend. We can improve protection simply by decreasing the number of animals in each flock!

These last decades, due to competition, sheep farming has been driven by high production and it has gradually moved away from traditional practices with smaller flocks.
Since the wolf is back, it is no longer possible to leave large flocks of more than 1,000 sheep alone without a shepherd to lead them or to guard them. The whole pastoral system must be reviewed.
Solutions exist
There are solutions for coexistence between wolves and livestock and we need to stop focusing only on stories about damages done by wolves.

In my experience with ‘Pastoraloup’ I had the pleasure to meet shepherds who are willing to accept the presence of wolves and adapt to them. The new generations of farmers seem also less fearful of wolves. 
This testimony was made with Julien Davy, volunteer of the French NGO FERUS by WWF EPO in March 2016