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Saturday, July 31, 1999 Published at 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK

World: Europe

Wolf worries in French Alps

Farmers and conservationists have different views on wolves

By Paris Correspondent Hugh Schofield

Sheep farmers in the French Alps have called for urgent action to protect their flocks from what they say is the growing menace of the wolf.

Wiped out in the 1920s, the wolves are slowly making a comeback into the French Alps, crossing over from Italy from where they never disappeared.

It's believed there could now be as many as 50 wolves living in the French Alps.

But what comes as a delight to environmentalists is a source of growing anger among farmers.

Shepherds say they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of sheep every year.

Old anxieties

Every spring, in a ritual that goes back centuries, tens of thousands of sheep are taken to the high mountain pastures to graze, but today's shepherds are rediscovering the anxieties of their ancestors.

This year alone, they say more than 300 sheep have been killed by wolves.

In one single recent attack 160 animals died when they were driven over the edge of a cliff.

So bad is the situation that some farmers have even broken with tradition and brought their flocks back down from the mountains.

Some say the farmers are exaggerating the problem in order to maximise the compensation they get when they lose a sheep to a protected species.

But there's no question that the number of wolves in the Alps is growing and the friction between the Green lobby, which wants them there, and the farmers on the other who don't, can only intensify.

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