Wolves’ Return to French Alps Not Always Welcome

WORLD

The return of indigenous wolves to the French Alps has been a victory for conservation—and a catastrophe for the local shepherding community. Wolves have killed at least 20,000 sheep in the past five years, threatening an historic, sustainable agricultural lifestyle. (New York Times)

Use our resources to better understand herding in the Alps.

The Eurasian grey wolf, leaner than its American cousin, was driven to extinction in France in the 20th century. Thanks to a dedicated conservation effort, a small population has returned to the Alps. Photograph by Volker.G, courtesy Wikimedia

The Eurasian grey wolf, leaner than its American cousin, was driven to extinction in France in the 20th century. Thanks to a dedicated conservation effort, a small population has returned to the Alps.
Photograph by Volker.G, courtesy Wikimedia

Discussion Ideas

  • Read our encyclopedic entry on herding. What type of herding do the shepherds profiled in the NY Times article practice?
    • Transhumance (section on page two). Transhumance herders follow a seasonal migration pattern, usually moving to cool highlands in the summer and warmer lowlands in the winter. Unlike nomads, these herders move between the same two locations, where they have permanent settlements.
  • The article focuses its attention on wolf attacks on sheep and goats. What other animals may be herded in the French Alps? Are they threatened by wolves? Review the encyclopedic entry for hints.
    • Pigs and cattle are also commonly herded in the Alps. Pigs are less threatened by wolves because they are more likely to be kept in enclosures than sheep or goats. Cattle are less threatened by wolves simply because of their size. However, both animals are potential prey.
  • French shepherds have suffered severe financial damage since wolves have returned to the Alps. Have American livestock farmers suffered similar losses due to predators protected by conservation efforts?
    • Yes. Ranchers have lost livestock to wolves, coyotes, bears, and even mountain lions. All these species have differing levels of protection and their presence is fiercely debated throughout agricultural areas of the U.S.
  • One of the shepherds interviewed in the article says “If you ask me, when they talk about ‘environmentalism’ today, it’s meant for city people. You go talk about the bear, the wolf, about nature that’s a bit wild, and you send them all off dreaming. . . Come ask us, the shepherds, about putting sharks in the Mediterranean. You’ll get 99 percent in favor. I don’t go swimming, I don’t give a damn!” Do you think he has a good point? Why or why not?

One response to “Wolves’ Return to French Alps Not Always Welcome

  1. Pingback: Surprising Facts about the ‘Last Great Race’ | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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