France Seeks to Train Wolves Not to Eat Sheep

Canis lupus italicus (Source: Luigi97 (CC))

Canis lupus italicus (Source: Luigi97 (CC))

Whoever devised the Maginot Line must still be living in France. In an attempt to control a growing wolf population preying on sheep, the French government has come up with a grand idea. They plan to capture wolves feasting on sheep, tag them and release them back into the wild. The theory is that the wolves will be so traumatized that they will learn not to eat sheep.

The wolf was eliminated from France in the 1930s. However, in the last few decades a few have slipped in from Italy and are now a protected specie. Approximately 250 wolves are living in France. The number of sheep that have become wolf meals has more than doubled in the last few years, from 2,680 in 2008 to 5,848 last year.

Sheep ranchers have taken to putting up electric fences to keep the wolves out, but the wolves are a bit too cunning. They circle the fence until the sheep become so terrified that they jump the fence and into the teeth of the wolves.

Wolves can only be shot legally by “wolf lieutenants” as shepherds are expected to use the electric fences and guard dogs. The problem has become so bad that Roquefort cheese production may be impaired.

By tagging the wolves that attack sheep, the French government hopes to identify the worst offenders. Then, the wolves that continue to have a taste for sheep can be legally shot.

While that sounds reasonable, wolves are opportunistic predators. They are going to go for the easiest prey. With the choice of tracking down deer in the wild or domesticated sheep in pens, it is clear that the sheep are the easier meal. Moreover, an average of nearly 25 sheep for every wolf is being lost. Wolves hunt in packs, and it is unlikely that one or two wolves in those packs are doing the sheep hunting while the rest are hanging back watching or dreaming of venison.

Nice try, France, but it isn’t likely that the wolves are going to give up an easy sheep meal. Educating sheep is the new Maginot Line. The wolves will find a way around that just like Hitler did in 1940.

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