August 5, 2008

"Alpine murder mystery: Are sheepdogs being poisoned to save the grey wolf?"

Transhumance festival in the foothills of the French Alps.

As Capt. Obvious would say, people have strong feelings about wolves. Ranchers despair over livestock and pets lost. Environmentalists, who are sometimes ranchers as well, want some protection for large predators. Politicians want news coverage; hunters want wolfskins; animal rightists want attention, etc.

Livestock guardian dogs are familiar to anyone who raises sheep in North America, and in Europe shepherds have turned to flock guardians as well ["returned" might be a better word, since many livestock guardian breeds were developed in Europe]. Now, in a strange twist, dogs guarding flocks on the border between France and Italy are being killed — not by wolves, but by human predators.
The French have an expression – entre chiens et loups– between the dogs and the wolves. It is a fanciful way of describing the twilight, the mysterious and uncertain time between day and night.

In the beautiful summer pastures of the Maurienne region of the French Alps, something mysterious, and wicked, has been happening in the twilight hours. The events are uncertain but one thing is clear. This is, literally, a story about dogs and wolves.

Since the start of the year, 17 sheepdogs have been poisoned in the mountains of the Maurienne range, which rise to more than 9,000ft, just inside the French frontier with Italy. The dogs have often died in great agony. They include several of the Patou or Pyrenean mountain breed – enormous, white, misleadingly cuddly-looking dogs, which are trained to give their lives, if necessary, to defend sheep from wolves.
In related news [huge suckage, this], some of the livestock guradian dogs are attacking tourists, and shepherds are being sued in the wake of ruined holidays:
Jean-Luc Renaud was on a mountain-walking holiday when he saw a bloodstained Belgian tourist staggering towards him. “His shorts were torn and he had been bitten badly in both buttocks,” Mr Renaud told The Times. “He was in a state of complete shock.”

The Belgian had fallen victim to a notoriously ferocious breed of mountain dog brought into the French Alps to defend sheep from wolves.

The attacks are driving holidaymakers away and are splitting the community against a backdrop of controversy over the reintroduction of the wolf in France. To add to the row, shepherds have been taken to court by wounded holidaymakers and 17 dogs have been poisoned in the Maurienne region of the Alps.
Read the full account [with comments] here.

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